It was the most highly anticipated game in WVU history. Every single call Tony Caridi took on his nightly phone-in show dealt with undefeated West Virginia’s big game against fourth-ranked Miami. WBOY weatherman Mike Simons had fans calling every 10 minutes wanting a weather update for Saturday's game.
“Everybody wants it to snow,” Simons said.
Mitch Vingle, sports editor of the local newspaper, The Dominion-Post, had planned to issue a 24-page special edition to cover the game but had to add eight pages to accommodate all of the advertising that was sold. Simons did his evening weather report from the MountainLair, the school’s student union, where a pep rally had students whipped into a frenzy.
On game day, hundreds of WVU students camped outside the ticket gate at the stadium to get the best seats. When the gates were finally opened two hours before kickoff, more than 17,000 students (out of 22,700) showed up to get into the game.
“There were just so many students that showed up for that game,” recalled WVU ticket manager Debby Travinski. “They were sitting in the aisles and the biggest problem was that people couldn’t get up out of their seats to go to the bathroom or get a drink.”
Those that couldn’t get into the student section wound up sitting in the grass behind the aluminum bleachers in the north end of the stadium. “We had so many students that we even had to put the band down on the field,” Travinski said.
The official attendance for the game is listed at 70,222, but the real number was much higher, possibly greater than 75,000 when you include pass outs, comps, and standing room only seating. In fact, following that game the department adopted a policy of no longer selling standing room only tickets.
Shelly Poe, WVU’s sports information director at the time, also had seating problems in the press box trying to accommodate all of the media requests.
"We squeezed and squeezed to get them in and added another row of risers in the press box," Poe recalled. "We were lucky that Notre Dame-BC was that day so it split the national media."
Still, reporters from the Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News, New York Times, Newsday, Newark Star-Ledger, Philadelphia Inquirer, Sports Illustrated, USA Today, Dallas Morning News, Boston Globe, Baltimore Sun, Washington Post and Virginia Pilot showed up to cover the game.
The third row of the press box, usually reserved for weekly papers that covered the Mountaineers, included Big East commissioner Michael Tranghese and his assistant John Paquette. The camera deck below the second level was used for overflow press and additional radio.
All of them were there to see if West Virginia was for real.
The Mountaineers were ninth in the AP ratings (sixth in the coaches’ poll) but many were questioning the strength of West Virginia’s schedule.
And beating Miami would erase some of those questions. Robert Walker’s 19-yard touchdown run with 6:08 left put the Mountaineers in the lead, 17-14, but the play of the game was quarterback Jake Kelchner’s 41-yard pass to Jay Kearney that moved the sticks and enabled West Virginia to run out the clock.
Kelchner, fighting a bum elbow and a stiff wind, floated the ball into the air and Kearney made a great play by beating Hurricane defensive backs Carl Richardson and Terris Harris back to the football.
“I didn’t think the ball was going to reach him,” said Miami defensive tackle Warren Sapp. “We had two DBs back there. I’m surprised he caught it.”
Once the clock wound down to zero, thousands of fans ran onto the field and tore down the goalposts to celebrate one of the milestone victories in school history.
“The only time I’ve seen that happen was on TV,” said Hurricane wide receiver Chris T. Jones. “That really hurt, seeing someone tear down the goal posts on the University of Miami.”
It was the first time Miami had lost a conference game since it joined the Big East Conference and the first time since 1984 a current member of the league (Boston College) beat the Hurricanes. It was also Miami’s first November loss in 32 games and the first time in nine years Miami was held scoreless in the first half.
“This was a statement game,” added WVU fullback Rodney Woodard. “Everyone said that they would come in and blow us out. We wanted to show people that was not going to happen. We’re a good football team. We’re no Cinderella. This was no fluke.”