Nostalgia crumbled like the concrete and splintered boards that day
Reports came to athletic director Leland Byrd that the football stadium was crumbling and repairs were desperately needed.
It was 1975 and Mountaineer Field was dying a last-gasp death in front of people’s eyes. There wasn’t enough money or enough will to put it back together again.
A new stadium would have to be built. But that stadium wouldn’t open until 1980.
What would be done with decrepit Mountaineer Field for the next four seasons? Well, not much it turned out. Not much at all.
Bobby Bowden fled Morgantown after winning a bowl game to complete the 1975 season. Nice-guy Frank Cignetti was named as his replacement.Cignetti was the unfortunate captain of a ship (Mountaineer Field) that was literally falling apart at the seams.
Recruiting quality players to bleed old gold and blue at that stadium was like spitting into the wind — it just didn’t work very well.
The 1979 season became The Alamo for Cignetti. He had three losing seasons and knew full well another year with more losses than wins would be his last.
There were no black arm bands worn by WVU fans after the first three games ended with losses. But there could have been.
The Mountaineers found the going less troubling in the middle of the 11-game schedule . . . and they won four straight times. By the time the 10th game came the record was 5-4. Another win was needed if Cignetti had any chance of retaining his position.
On Nov. 10, the mostly detested (even abhored) Pitt Panthers traipsed into Mountaineer Field for the old place’s last hurrah.
Opened in 1924, the stained stadium was hosting its final game.
It had been fully four years since Byrd had been put on alert that the old trooper of a stadium was groaning its last.
By Nov. 10, 1979, more than a few cracks and additional splintered seats were in stark evidence.
The faded green artificial turf was falling apart. Some of the white letters were barely visible. Chunks of concrete littered the outside walkways.
Around the outside of the walls there were corners filled with leaves from many winters, loose dirt, debris and shards of broken glass.
Inside, nothing much to accommodate human comforts had been done since the words of doom had been passed to Byrd.
A fence had been erected on the home side bleachers, splitting the oft-rabid student section from the “normals” and season-ticket holders.
Not only was the turf faded and dingy, but it was very hard.
Pitt had some players, including Hugh Green, Rickey Jackson, Mark May, Russ Grimm and freshman quarterback Dan Marino. The coach was Jackie Sherrill.
Winning a sixth game for Cignetti would not be a light-hearted venture that November day.
West Virginia had some talented athletes, but most of them were underclassmen and would do more winning at the “new” Mountaineer Field to be opened on the former site of a nine-hole golf course in 1980.
Darryl Talley, Fulton Walker, Dave Oblak, Jerry Holmes, Curlin Beck, Robert Alexander, Sedrick King and quarterback Oliver Luck gave their best to save Cignetti’s job that afternoon. But the Panthers still won, 24-17, as Luck threw five interceptions.
The overflow crowd announced at 38,681 didn’t chant any loud epithets aimed at the Panthers, instead marched in orderly fashion out of the stadium towards Beechurst Avenue, over the creaking bridge snug against the horseshoe end of the stadium or up to Woodburn Hall for one final time.
An ancient scoreboard that wasn’t even a third cousin once-removed of the modern day jumbotrons blinked the final score.
The dingy weight room and dripping water in the place’s underbelly were to be left alone until a wrecking crew came to dismantle the stadium.
Radio announcer Jack Fleming and writers Mickey Furfari and Tony Constantine wore forlorn expressions as if they had lost a comrade in arms.
The many buses parked against the west stands departed one by one.
One more game was left; a severe road test at Sun Devil Stadium against Arizona State. The final verdict came in: Arizona State 42, WVU 7.
The Mountaineers had finished with a 5-6 record. The offense had averaged only 16.8 points a game. Frank Cignetti was replaced by Don Nehlen and everything moved to the new stadium near the hospital.
“Old” Mountaineer Field became a memory of how things were done before the advent of the flying “WV” and the always anticipated tailgate soirees where alumni and friends can remember beating Pitt in the long-gone Octobers of yesteryear.