In Morgantown, W. Va., it is Mountaineer Week.
On Monday, businessmen started wearing ties reading, "Beat the hell out of Pitt." Some students are growing beards and others are dressing like mountaineers. Everyone else seems to be wearing "Beat Pitt" T-shirts.
This is the week of madness when the University of Pittsburgh and West Virginia prepare for their annual game. At sold-out Pitt Stadium Saturday, these unbeaten teams will meet for the 75th time before 56,500 fans and a national television audience (WJLA-TV-7, 12:35) in what has grown to be one of the most intense rivalries in college football.
There may be more publicity surrounding the annual games between Army-Navy, Texas-Oklahoma, Alabama-Auburn or even Harvard-Yale, but the proximity of Pitt and West Virginia to each other (90 minutes apart by Interstate 79) makes this a fan's delight.
West Virginia quickly sold out its allotment of 5,000 tickets, then asked for and sold 3,000 more. With many alumni getting tickets in Pittsburgh, there will be about 10,000 Mountaineer fans in the stadium.
One year the entire Pitt band, its cheerleaders and hundreds of fans loaded up a barge and took an overnight trip down the Monongahela River to Morgantown. Old Mountaineer Stadium was next to the river, so the barge pulled up and the band marched right onto the field.
The atmosphere in the city of Pittsburgh is like a society tea compared to the activities in Morgantown.
"At Pitt, we don't even sell out every game," said Joyce Aschenbrenner, Pitt's assistant sports information director. "In Pittsburgh, for every Pitt fan, there's a Penn State fan, a Notre Dame fan or even a West Virginia fan. West Virginia has a lot of alumni here.
"But at West Virginia, the whole state is behind the team. When the Mountaineers beat Oklahoma, the governor showed up at practice the next week. There is a tremendous sense of pride. Everything this week revolves around this game."
Mickey Furfari, the sports editor of the Dominion Post in Morgantown, has covered every Pitt-West Virginia game since 1946. He says fans wait for this game all year and then talk about it until the next one.
"Pitt fans used to laugh about it, the way this town goes crazy in Mountaineer Week, but they take it more serious than they like to admit," he said. "They're answering the phone up in the football office now, 'Hang the hillbillies--Pitt football.' "
Although Pitt Coach Foge Fazio is trying to keep his No. 1-ranked team from getting too emotional, he says his assistant coaches did show up at practice one day this week wearing coonskin hats.
Last year, Pitt players prepared for the deafening noise at Mountaineer Stadium by playing John Denver's record, "Take Me Home, Country Roads," at full volume in the dressing room.
West Virginia hasn't won at Pitt in 10 years, and its only victory during that span was in 1975. Bill McKenzie kicked a last-second field goal for a 17-14 triumph, then couldn't get off the field as he was mobbed by fans.
"Until (former coach) Johnny Majors started recruiting 75 to 80 kids a year back when that was legal and built up Pitt's program, this was a rivalry where the underdog won more than the favorite," Furfari said. "Since then, Pitt has dominated."
Since 1972, Pitt has outscored West Virginia, 283-95; only three of the games have been close. This season, the Mountaineers, who are 10 1/2-point underdogs, enter the game in their best shape in years.
They opened the season by shocking the Sooners in Oklahoma, 41-27. After escaping with a 19-18 victory over Maryland, the Mountaineers routed Richmond, 43-10, last week and climbed to 14th in both wire service polls. This will be the first time since 1965 that both teams are nationally ranked when they meet.