West Virginia Shows Its Heart for UConn's Jasper Howard

RG YohoCorrespondent IOctober 26, 2009

MINNEAPOLIS - MARCH 20:  The mascot for the West Virginia Moutaineers stands on the court against the Dayton Flyers during the first round of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on March 20, 2009 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Despite the fact that West Virginia often gets some bad press for its fans occasionally torching a couch now and then; however, there has never been a day in my life when I wasn’t proud to be a Mountaineer fan.

Perhaps that was never truer than this past Saturday!

Following the tragic death of Connecticut cornerback, Jasper Howard, I am sure that the great majority of the country were pulling for the Mountaineers to lose this game.

And to be quite honest with you, I was definitely worried about the outcome!

I knew that the Huskies would certainly play an inspired game, desperately trying to win one for their fallen teammate. I also know that greatly inspired teams quite often find a way to beat a better, but less motivated opponent.

All week long, the reporting of this game was understandably focused on the death of young Mr. Howard.

Then I was not at all surprised to learn that Coach Bill Stewart and the WVU administration wanted to do something to honor the loss of Connecticut’s young student-athlete.

The fans of West Virginia are some of the most devoted and vocal partisans in the world of college athletics. They love their Mountaineers. And as any visitor can tell you, Mountaineer Field is one of the toughest venues in the country for any opponent to play.

The fans are loud and rowdy. And they love their Mountaineers.

But despite the drunken actions of some occasionally unruly, college students, the people of West Virginia are some of the finest people in the world. And whenever there is a tragedy in this country, I flat out guarantee you that the people of West Virginia are some of the first Americans to respond!

And on this Saturday, the entire country finally saw what I knew was there all along.

They saw West Virginia for what it really is, kind and loving people, who are generous and giving, and supremely compassionate to those who are suffering a loss.

Mountaineer fans never cheer for their opponents when they take the field.

They did on Saturday.

They gave a standing ovation for the Huskies when they ran onto the field, carrying the jersey of Jasper Howard. The Mountaineer fans repeated their standing ovation when they left the field, following the game.

And I am proud to say that I was right there, on my feet among them.

When they had a moment of silence for Jasper Howard in the pregame ceremony, you could have heard a dime fall to the concrete, on the concourse outside the stadium. It was almost an eerie silence, something I had never experienced in Morgantown.

Following the opening kickoff, the UConn players and Coach Randy Edsall threw everything they had at the Mountaineers

And for anybody who truly loves the sport of college football, it was perhaps, the most exciting game of the day.

Mountaineer fans often get a bad rap; unjustly so, I might add.

Many has been the time I have stopped to converse with the fans of a visiting team or invited them to join us at my tailgate. In fact, I have often seen Mountaineer fans sharing a drink with visiting fans, or even more disturbing, heard those same Mountaineer fans singing along with them in the opponents’ fight song.

It may have not been pleasant to hear; but it is certainly indicative of the nature of Mountaineer fans.

They are friendly and fun loving. They love their football team. And as a state that has a long, rich heritage of military service, West Virginians are clearly no strangers to the loss of a young and promising life.

Over the years, I have many special memories of games I have witnessed at Mountaineer Field. This past Saturday, I have added another one to my collection that I will always treasure.

If you follow the college football scores, you already know the outcome of this game. Therefore, I see no good reason to mention it here.

This column was about the loss of young athlete and his opponents’ reaction to his death.

Our hearts go out to the friends and loved ones of Jasper Howard. You are certainly in our thoughts and prayers.

And nobody shares your grief any more than the people of West Virginia!