BREAKING: Police in riot gear in Morgantown, WV. People rioting after WVU win vs Baylor. Pic from twitter pic.twitter.com/jrK8MQvlCD
— Dave Bondy (@WPXI_DaveBondy) October 19, 2014
The more things change, the more things stay the same.
Now that the fires are tamped down and the Dumpsters returned to their homes, the hand-wringing over post-game rioting following West Virginia University’s upset of then-No. 4 Baylor has begun in earnest.
As anyone who follows college sports can tell you, Morgantown has a dubious distinction for its incendiary celebrations after big wins.
In 2012, the last time this happened — maybe too long ago for for a lot of fans — head coach Dana Holgorsen had some words for those tempted to take their festivities too far: “I would encourage everyone involved to get used to wins like that.”
(Of course, days after those optimistic words, Texas Tech went on to upset WVU and set in motion a slide from which the team only now seems to be recovering, which, while it might explain the pent-up excitement, offers no excuse for the destruction.)
I wrote a column back in 2002, after we defeated No. 3 Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, 21-18, our last Top 5 upset. It was an effort to put into context a supposed “tradition” and its place in WVU’s new reality.
But while the Mountaineers’ sports landscape has changed dramatically — and for the better — it appears not much else has.
My turn: Burning couches isn’t new
As a responsible furniture owner, let me just say I was shocked by the reports of rampant couch burning by West Virginia University students after last week’s upset of Virginia Tech.
What’s the matter with these kids? Don’t they know how much a good sectional couch costs?
Besides, in my day, burning things meant something. Sure, we wanted to burn sections of something — sections of town.
Those were the days when the legal drinking age was 18, our nearest rival, the University of Pittsburgh, was only a few years removed from their last national championship and cocky, future Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino stood behind center. We wanted to knock off someone big — anyone big.
By the time I got to school, our record against powerhouses such as Pitt and Penn State was dismal enough that I was told should we ever beat one of them, we would burn down Morgantown’s legendary bar district, Sunnyside.
It was almost like a high-stakes bet, as if a big-time victory were so dear, we would sacrifice the thing nearest and dearest to an undergraduate’s heart to achieve it. In this case, it was a row of wonderfully low establishments serving up our favorite frothy beverages.
That first year, down fell Oklahoma. Then, later, Pitt. And eventually, even Penn State.
Each time, as if from a congress of pigskin shamans, the incantation arose: “Sunnyside burns! Sunnyside burns!” But it never did.
Impromptu bonfires were lit, put out and re-started. And, yes, upholstery somehow got involved then, too.
Still, my friends and I knew that the handful of truly determined firebugs weren’t in their right minds, just addled, excitable and in need of attention. We stood back and tried not to get in their way.
Once in a while, one of us would hoot. Mostly, we just raised our plastic cups, basked in the glow of a satisfying victory and worked up the nerve to talk to coeds. We were nerds.
Now, with zoning having mostly washed away the neighborhood’s sudsy reputation, Sunnyside is but a sad shadow of its former glory, its value as the payoff to a big bet diminished. There’s no sacrifice in what’s essentially a stretch of sidewalk leading to off-campus housing.
Legends die hard. I can only guess that’s the motivation behind this generation’s celebratory pyromaniacs.
It makes for good copy. A blurb and a roll of the eyes on SportsCenter.
But in the presence of people who didn’t attend my school, I feel like someone sitting with the in-laws’ family at a wedding reception and watching a drunken, distant relative make a fool of himself. There’s great love — and great embarrassment — at what should be a very happy occasion.
Nobody likes being in the hot seat.