Lengthy earlier than he developed right into a wrestling and broadcasting star, even earlier than he burst onto the scene as a prized NFL punter, Pat McAfee drove aimlessly throughout the American terrain.
It has been 15 years since, and he remembers little or no concerning the drive and says he has not spoken publicly about it. He remembers brushing away the damaged beer bottles in his driveway that West Virginia followers hurled at his Jeep Wrangler amid the violent aftermath of Dec. 1 2007, the worst night time of his life when his dependable foot partially price the Mountaineers an opportunity at a nationwide championship. His automotive was vandalized, his yard destroyed, his life threatened.
So, McAfee hopped into his Jeep and did what so many West Virginia followers requested of him: He disappeared.
“My life modified instantly that day. It was a horrible f—— night time, to be trustworthy with you,” McAfee says. “It was like one thing out of a film. I simply drove. I obtained all the way in which to Virginia by Maryland. I used to be gone for a pair days. I drove, parked, slept and saved driving. I didn’t know the place I used to be. I didn’t know the place I used to be headed. I didn’t know what was coming subsequent.
“And I didn’t know if I wished to dwell anymore.”
Outsiders may suppose it’s foolish that one sport might imply a lot to an individual, or that it might without end fracture a relationship between a coach, Wealthy Rodriguez, and his one real love, West Virginia. However that one sport—Pitt 13, West Virginia 9—left as many scars as any sport within the historical past of faculty soccer. For some, the injuries are as contemporary as they had been in 2007, an notorious date for a whole fan base and state left heartbroken by its archrival.
These concerned say outsiders don’t perceive the state of affairs, the stakes and the collection.
On the fifteenth anniversary of the Yard Brawl’s most beautiful chapter, certainly one of school soccer’s biggest rivalries returns Thursday after an 11-year hiatus. Pitt vs. West Virginia. Metropolis vs. nation. Metal vs. coal.
“Pitt and West Virginia, there’s a hate there,” former Pitt defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads says.
There have been 104 Yard Brawls, and though Pitt has received 61 of them, West Virginia has significantly tightened the collection, holding a 21-19-2 edge since 1970.
The colleges, separated by about 75 miles, are demographically dissimilar—Pittsburgh’s metro space (2.3 million) is larger than all the inhabitants of West Virginia (1.8 million).
Earlier than its newest hiatus, the Brawl almost died within the Nineteen Forties, when the collection stopped for 3 years as a result of West Virginia, in dire monetary straits, owed Pitt $20,000 for assured video games performed in Morgantown the earlier decade. (Fortunately, the problem was resolved.) The collection has actually produced brawls —in ’76, when Pittsburgh’s Tony Dorsett was ejected for sparking a battle, and in ’70, when the Bobby Bowden–led Mountaineers squandered a 35–8 halftime lead and compelled the coach to maintain his gamers within the locker room for an additional hour to keep away from an indignant mob of followers.
The Brawl additionally has created heroes—males named Jock (Sutherland), Gibby (Welch) and Bimbo (Cecconi). It has even featured duels between brothers—in 1965, Paul Martha’s 46-yard landing run lifted the Panthers to a victory in opposition to brother Richie’s Mountaineers.
“Like most huge rivalries, there are superior stereotypes,” says Oliver Luck, a former Mountaineers quarterback and athletic director. “It’s ‘refined metropolis folks’ of Pittsburgh in opposition to ‘the hillbillies’ of West Virginia.”
Pitt followers famously say the one path to Morgantown is by swinging alongside tree vines. The Mountaineers counter with a three-word chant that always erupts at numerous WVU sporting occasions, regardless of if the 2 groups are enjoying. Eat s—, Pitt!
No single chapter of the Brawl featured greater heroes and battle wounds than “13–9.” Thursday night time’s resurrection of this century-old collection is a reminder of faculty soccer’s wealthy custom, elegant pageantry and, for some, agonizing historical past. The Mountaineers enter the sport, as they’ve for years now, holding a particular distinction—no main school soccer program has received extra video games in its historical past with out having claimed a nationwide championship. Fifteen years in the past, on a chilly night time in Morgantown, the Mountaineers missed their newest probability at future.
“You make a play that makes a distinction on this sport, you possibly can develop into a legend,” Dave Wannstedt, the previous NFL coach who performed and coached at Pitt, says. “Individuals will speak about you without end.”
Mike Patrick, a former NFL and school soccer broadcaster, is 2 years into retirement. He lives in Virginia, however he has not forgotten his roots. He’s a West Virginia boy, born within the mountain city of Clarksburg and raised to despise one college.
“I hated Pitt earlier than I knew what Pitt was,” he says with amusing.
He attended his first Yard Brawl in 1959 at age 15. Practically 50 years later, in 2007, Patrick obtained assigned to name his first and solely Brawl sport as ESPN’s lead play-by-play announcer. He was overcome with pleasure. What’s higher, he thought, than broadcasting his residence state college’s largest second to the world?
“It was going to be one of the best sport I’ve ever carried out. Personally, it turned out to be the worst,” he says. “I waited my entire life, my entire profession for it. It’s factor I didn’t have a allow to hold a gun. I don’t know that I’d have made it out of the stadium that night time.”
The 2007 West Virginia Mountaineers workforce was a bunch of “misfits,” McAfee says. They outsprinted everybody with swagger and athleticism, and benefited from the schematic genius of their coach.
Rodriguez, a former West Virginia defensive again and homegrown West Virginian then in his seventh 12 months as coach, puzzled defenses by using working again Steve Slaton and quarterback Pat White in a zone-read unfold idea that’s now a part of nearly each offensive playbook. Exterior of a Week 5 hiccup in opposition to a ranked South Florida workforce, the Mountaineers had been near-perfect with a ten–1 report and ranked No. 2 within the nation behind the nation’s most electrical offense (the unit averaged 41.6 factors a sport).
The 2007 school soccer season, dubbed the 12 months of the Upset, was one of many wildest within the historical past of the game. Prime 5 groups misplaced to unranked opponents a report 13 occasions, and packages ranked No. 2 within the AP ballot misplaced seven occasions within the ultimate 9 weeks of the common season. As groups faltered, the Mountaineers saved creeping up the polls and entered the ultimate week of the season in place to succeed in the BCS championship sport in opposition to, in all probability, Ohio State.
One workforce—an unranked, 4–7 squad from Pittsburgh—stood of their manner. “It was the final hurdle between us and immortality,” says Jed Drenning, West Virginia’s radio sideline reporter.
The Mountaineers had been 28-point favorites and had posted a mixed 90 factors and 1,133 yards in opposition to Pitt the earlier two seasons. The Panthers had been beginning a real freshman quarterback, had but to win on the street and misplaced to Rutgers, UConn and Navy.
Confidence was so excessive in Morgantown, the daddy of WVU fullback Owen Schmitt ordered 100 celebratory T-shirts earlier than the sport. The BCS title sport that 12 months was in New Orleans, so the shirts featured a court docket jester with the phrases “Bayou Certain!”
Scott McKillop, Pitt’s standout linebacker in 2007, doesn’t blame anybody for doubting the Panthers. “We sucked,” he says. “If we play 100 occasions, we in all probability solely beat them one time.”
As Pitt arrived on the stadium, West Virginia followers pelted the workforce bus with beer bottles and rocks. “It seemed like hail,” remembers Pat Bostick, the rookie quarterback who began that night time.
Bostick didn’t get a lot sleep the night time earlier than. It wasn’t nerves, however moderately an an infection so unhealthy he says blood oozed from his ear. Issues obtained worse. Within the third quarter, Bostick scored Pitt’s solely landing on a one-yard sneak. He flipped into the top zone, smashed right into a defender and was punched from underneath his chin.
“I noticed stars,” he says. “I used to be completely concussed, however I wasn’t popping out of that sport.”
Pitt’s defensive stress, in the meantime, knocked White out of the sport with 5 minutes left within the second quarter, produced an important sack-fumble on his backup within the fourth and held Slaton to a season-low 11 yards, roughly 80 beneath his common. Panthers working again LeSean McCoy led the night time with 38 carries for 148 yards, and Pitt’s protection blitzed nearly each down utilizing the identical rover again zero play with variations that had been designed to clog each working hole and get into the backfield to harass White and Slaton.
White missed roughly two quarters with a dislocated thumb on his nonthrowing hand, however returned for the ultimate two drives of the sport, each of which ended on failed fourth downs in Pitt territory.
“You are feeling helpless,” says White, now an offensive assistant for the Los Angeles Chargers. “Considering again on it, I in all probability ought to have stated, ‘Overlook that thumb.’”
White’s damage got here almost 20 years after Lou Holtz and No. 1 Notre Dame beat Don Nehlen’s third-ranked Mountaineers within the Fiesta Bowl to win the 1988 nationwide championship. In that sport, WVU’s star quarterback, Main Harris, separated his shoulder on the very first play.
“It’s one tear-inducing second after one other,” Patrick says.
The 2007 end result affected LSU greater than every other workforce, paving its option to the title sport. Late that Saturday night time, the rating reached the Tigers as they had been returning to Louisiana after profitable the SEC championship in Atlanta. Because the workforce aircraft descended into Baton Rouge, the pilot introduced the rating. Gamers and coaches erupted with such drive that the jet dangerously dipped.
“We had a celebration at nonetheless many thousand ft up we had been,” remembers Michael Bonnette, the workforce’s longtime sports activities data director. “We broke a number of FAA violations.”
For weeks, Wannstedt acquired cigars and thank-you letters from LSU followers. The Tigers in the end beat the Buckeyes, 38–24, delivering coach Les Miles his solely nationwide championship.
White has by no means watched a replay of the sport and received’t except tied down and his eyes are taped open, he says. His reminiscences are considerably misplaced. “You know the way folks undergo traumatic stuff and so they overlook about issues?” he asks.
Many from that West Virginia workforce nonetheless dwell within the state. Schmitt, the fullback whose father had these shirts made, is a UPS supervisor dwelling in Dawson. Williams works at a poultry and beef farm in Morefield.
“We simply should dwell with the most important loss in our historical past. That’s all,” Schmitt says sarcastically. “It’s not like I by no means suppose, ‘I ponder what would have occurred had we received the natty?’ Lives would have modified.”
Drenning attended the sport with a buddy who was so distraught that the person determined, in the midst of the night time after the sport, to stroll residence. It was 12 miles away. “He was in a darkish place. He’s advised me concerning the issues that went by his thoughts that night time,” Drenning says. “These are the sort of tales you hear from West Virginians.”
Excessive above the stadium, Patrick, who painstakingly remained neutral throughout the broadcast, waited for everybody to go away the press field earlier than he slipped right into a aspect room, closed the door and screamed on the prime of his lungs. “I obtained to offer myself credit score,” he says. “I held it in.”
For McAfee, Dec. 1, 2007, was a debilitating occasion. The workforce’s place-kicker and punter entered that sport having made 10 consecutive subject objectives. On West Virginia’s first drive, he hooked a 20-yard kick left. On its third drive, he pushed a 32-yarder proper. McAfee, a fan favourite, took delight in being a Mountaineer and was recognized for celebrating victories with informal followers throughout Morgantown. Every August at their residence, he and linebacker Reed Williams hosted a barbecue occasion for the workforce and followers.
Everybody knew the place they lived.
“We had been sitting round our kitchen desk speechlessly each other, and our home was getting bombarded with bottles all night time lengthy. You’d hear the thud of the bottle and glass shatter,” Williams says. “You’d see the remnants of beer and liquor bottles. The remainder of the semester, Pat was receiving loss of life threats. The man obtained torn down.”
Wealthy Rodriguez lives with regrets. First, he acknowledges utilizing a too-conservative sport plan on the night time of Dec. 1, 2007. And secondly: “It was a mistake to go to Michigan,” he says. Two weeks after the Brawl loss, on the night time of Dec. 15, a day after interviewing for the job in Ann Arbor and a day earlier than accepting it, Rodriguez held a heated dialog with West Virginia college president Mike Garrison. He was looking for causes to remain. He obtained none.
Garrison reportedly advised him, “We’ve carried out all we will; take it or go away it.”
“I used to be like, ‘Gee whiz,’” the coach says now. “Most individuals don’t know that. I don’t suppose I’ve advised anybody that earlier than.”
Garrison lasted simply 14 months as WVU’s president after his hiring was introduced in April 2007. His workplace was consumed with controversies over favoritism earlier than the school voted to name for his resignation, which he gave in June 2008.
Rodriguez, in the meantime, says he has by no means spoken publicly about why he left his residence state and alma mater. He claims to have thrice caught college directors misappropriating donations meant for soccer. These donations, for amenities enhancements and the like, had been made, partially, as a result of Rodriguez turned down the Alabama teaching job a season earlier than.
And plenty of have puzzled whether or not these occasions would have performed out otherwise if the Dec. 1, 2007, Brawl resulted in West Virginia’s favor.
“It’s the most important ‘what if’ in our historical past. Little question about it,” says John Antonik, the director of content material for West Virginia athletics and creator of a e book detailing the Pitt–West Virginia feud. “I’ve had folks ask me this as just lately as only a month in the past: Did Wealthy Rod throw that sport?”
When requested about it, Rodriguez scowls along with his response. No, he says, he didn’t purposely lose what was crucial sport—and self-described “largest nightmare”—of his skilled profession, one which led to him vomiting within the locker room afterward. He’s offended, possibly even damage, that so many West Virginia followers nonetheless imagine his departure for Michigan two weeks after that sport was linked to his workforce’s efficiency that night time.
“It pisses me off. That’s whole bulls—. Bulls—,” says Rodriguez, now coach at FCS Jacksonville State. “These conversations didn’t happen till per week after that. Anyone who says that doesn’t know what the hell they’re speaking about.”
Says Drenning: “Wealthy wished to do issues for this system, and he felt resistance from the administration. Ever since I knew the man, West Virginia was his dream job. I feel he had a imaginative and prescient of what we might be, and others didn’t suppose we might be that.”
Rodriguez’s exit did profit one participant, not less than.
“I don’t know if it took the goal off my again and put it on him,” says McAfee, “however I do bear in mind, like folks telling me, like truly telling me round campus, ‘I hated you for all of it till Wealthy went to Michigan.’ I’m like, ‘O.Ok., thanks. I respect that!’”
The 2 males had been bonded without end over missed subject objectives and messy exits. They went with out speaking for greater than 10 years earlier than McAfee was on a broadcast workforce for certainly one of Rodriguez’s video games in 2019 whereas he coordinated the Ole Miss offense. They spoke then, exchanged numbers and developed a relationship over texts.
Nonetheless, the ache stays for McAfee. He has returned to campus solely as soon as, for a 2015 halftime ceremony to honor the ’05 group that beat Georgia within the Sugar Bowl and launched one of the best three-year stretch in Mountaineers historical past—three convention titles, three top-10 ultimate rankings and 33 victories. McAfee flew in that morning, drove on to the stadium and didn’t keep for the top of the sport.
“It’s robust. I let down lots of people. Do you wish to pop again in and go to a spot the place you actually made each human there depressing and upset? That’s not my vibes,” he says. “I let down mainly all people I care about—my household, myself, my teammates, my coaches, all people who’s invested time in me at West Virginia.”
After the 2007 sport, ensconced in his residence, he made the error of opening his Fb web page.
“I had a bunch of individuals I assumed I used to be buddies with sending me DMs to by no means present my face, kill myself or that, if they might, they’d attempt to kill me,” he says. “I cried for in all probability seven or eight hours straight. I bear in mind listening to what folks had been screaming into the home. It was at that second I used to be like, ‘I ought to disappear in all probability.’”
Williams has tried to persuade his former roommate to return to campus once more. It’s not like McAfee hates West Virginia. On the set of his radio present, he proudly has his West Virginia jersey on show. He roots for the Mountaineers. He needs them to beat Pitt “by 1,000,” he says.
“He’s cherished right here,” says Williams. “I don’t suppose he feels that reciprocated. It’s been onerous for him to reopen his coronary heart.”
As for Rodriguez, many West Virginians loathed the coach for that two-week stretch in December 2007 and overlook concerning the 60 video games he received over seven years. Patrick jokes there are seemingly armed guards on the West Virginia border anticipating his return, and when requested whether or not time will heal such wounds, the previous broadcaster quips, “We’ll all be lifeless by then.”
Rodriguez returns to the state, and Morgantown, each couple of years to go to his brother and 83-year-old mom. To today, although, he’s by no means returned to campus, visited the amenities or been invited again for a sport. He says it bothers him. “I hope we will return, all of us sooner or later.”
He’ll without end take into account West Virginia residence, however is aware of there are scars. They comply with him in every single place, even to tiny Jacksonville, Ala. Upon taking up the Jacksonville State program this spring, he had his new gamers full an data sheet. One of many questions: Inform me one thing fascinating about your self.
A solution from one participant, a West Virginia native: My dad took an image of you and set it on fireplace once you left West Virginia.
The heroes of the 2007 Brawl sport rolled into Pittsburgh on the workforce bus whereas singing John Denver’s “Take Me Residence, Nation Roads.” Gamers sang, on and off, because the sport had ended. Their voices might even be heard within the background throughout Rodriguez’s postgame information convention, booming from the opposite aspect of the wall.
Nation roads, take me residence
To the place I belong
West Virginia, mountain mama
Take me residence, nation roads
At 3 a.m., the Panthers returned to a metropolis alive. Bars stayed open late, welcoming gamers and coaches for beer and pizza. Couches burned on the road.
“There have been no guidelines,” McKillop says. “We might have carried out about something, and nobody would have cared.”
McKillop, the Pitt linebacker who famously stopped Slaton on a fourth-down run within the fourth quarter, is notoriously outspoken concerning the feud between the 2 packages. He as soon as advised a reporter for a printed story of West Virginia, “I f—— hate the college and I f—— hate the state.”
Years later, he now lives within the state, married right into a household of Mountaineers with two youngsters born within the state, and West Virginia College is certainly one of his most outstanding purchasers for his medical system gross sales job. “They bear in mind my final title,” he says. “It took a bit further to win them over.”
The impacts of the upset had been far reaching. West Virginia held a giant recruiting weekend for the Brawl sport, with not less than a dozen prospects watching from the Mountaineers sideline. Some selected between the 2 colleges. Pitt signed roughly eight of these gamers. Some even left their WVU official go to to affix Pitt in its postgame celebration. That December, the Panthers despatched prospects Christmas playing cards with the brief message: “13–9.”
Pitt followers usually consult with that sport by the rating and discover any option to insert it into conversations or pictures. In Could, Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi posted a message on Twitter that counted down the times till the season opener with a photograph of Pitt gamers charging onto the sector.
You may guess which two helmet numbers had been most prominently featured.
However why, in spite of everything these years and nice video games, did the collection go dormant for greater than a decade? The reply facilities on the game’s ordinary suspect—convention realignment, a money-grabbing endeavor that has consumed school sports activities and, to some, has shattered the sport’s historical past and custom.
In 2013, the ACC completed off the Huge East by taking Syracuse and Pitt and leaving West Virginia scrambling. “The ACC denied us,” remembers Luck, AD at West Virginia from ’10 to ’14. “The SEC was a possibly, however it relied on Missouri’s determination. We could have had a possibility [to join the SEC] if Missouri wouldn’t have gone.”
Missouri’s transfer in 2012 opened a spot for the Mountaineers within the Huge 12 and disrupted the Brawl’s annual date. In certainly one of his first acts as athletic director in ’15, Shane Lyons opened communication with Pitt to restart the collection. They are going to play eight occasions over the following 11 years.
With their closest convention sport 800 miles away, the Mountaineers have revived different previous rivalries with their neighbors, equivalent to Penn State, Virginia Tech and Maryland. In a world the place such video games are disappearing due to realignment and guaranteed-win video games, Lyons is bucking the pattern. West Virginia has performed or will play 11 Energy 5 video games from 2018 to ’24, excluding the COVID-19-impacted ’20 season.
“Why aren’t all of us enjoying 11 Energy 5 video games?” Lyons asks. “Are we doing what’s proper for school soccer? The TV offers are profitable and necessary to all of us in working our departments, however you’re breaking apart these geographical rivalries.”
The rivalry’s revival has followers buzzing. The typical ticket worth on the secondary market is at greater than $200, rating among the many highest-priced video games of the season. Lyons is aware of of West Virginia followers who purchased Pitt season tickets simply to safe entry to the Brawl, he says. The sport offered out weeks in the past, and Pitt offered one other 200-plus standing-room-only tickets inside 5 minutes of opening gross sales.
A lot of the gamers competing Thursday night time had been in elementary college when the 2 groups final tangled on that chilly night time in Morgantown, and only a few individuals who had been a part of the packages in 2007 stay. Bostick is the colour analyst for Pitt’s radio broadcast, and every workforce employs an assistant coach from the ’07 staffs—Jeff Casteel is a defensive analyst who was West Virginia’s defensive coordinator for that sport; and Charlie Partridge, then Pitt’s particular groups coordinator, is now a line of defense coach.
McAfee, in the meantime, has developed into the most important superstar from that sport. A number of folks have invited him to Thursday night time’s sport. He says he’ll unlikely attend however might be watching, rooting on his Mountaineers, 15 years after that lengthy, lonely drive with a vacation spot he’s nonetheless in the hunt for.
“Hopefully, [coach] Neal Brown will have the ability to win a natty so I can get this weight off of me.”
Watch school soccer dwell with fuboTV: Begin a free trial as we speak!
Extra Faculty Soccer Protection: