Rodriguez reflects on 1984's 'Moonlight Madness on Mountaineer Field'

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Daily Sports Editor
Published October 8, 2009

They say the freaks come out at night.

The 1984 “Moonlight Madness on Mountaineer Field” between Penn State and West Virginia saw plenty. And for Rich Rodriguez, the madness started early.

That October night, the West Virginia senior started and grabbed an early interception. But Rodriguez was just a catalyst for the eventual bedlam.

After going winless in the rivalry since 1955, this West Virginia team was about to make history.

With just under a minute left to play and the Mountaineers up 17-14, Penn State threw an interception at the West Virginia 18-yard line.

Then all hell broke loose.

Fans rushed the field, taking a goal post down with them.

The scoreboard seemed to ignore the 50-some seconds left on the clock and read, ‘WOW.’
The ESPN announcers declared, “The game is not over, folks.” But Penn State coach Joe Paterno knew better.

Amid all the on-field chaos, Paterno, who at the time held an 18-0 record against West Virginia, ran across the field to shake the hand of Mountaineers’ coach Don Nehlen and offered some advice.

“We can’t stop the clock, and we can’t stop this crowd, but this game is over. Let’s get our teams out of here,” Nehlen recalled in his book, “Tales from the West Virginia Sideline.”

A much younger Paterno sprinted to the visitors’ locker room, and the Mountaineers continued with the on-field celebration. But outside the stadium, no one was going anywhere.

A bonfire in the middle of a campus street seemed like the appropriate answer to the Mountaineers’ unimaginable win. It wasn’t quite the style of East Lansing’s Cedar Village, but little was spared from the celebratory blaze.

“They were burning couches, chairs and tables, lawn furniture,” Rodriguez recalled in what he said was his most memorable night game. “That happened to be a block from the house I was renting, so I saw all the smoke.”

As the Mountaineers’ head coach from 2001 to 2007, Rodriguez was familiar with the ‘Backyard Brawl,’ West Virginia’s annual rivalry with Pittsburgh, which is often played at night. At the helm in Morgantown, Rodriguez was 23-7 in night games.

“Our players took a little extra pride in that, because it was a special atmosphere for them,” Rodriguez said.

Tomorrow, Rodriguez will coach in his first night game as Michigan’s head coach when the Wolverines travel to No. 12 Iowa. After losing to Michigan State last weekend in East Lansing, the Wolverines have yet to prove themselves in a hostile road atmosphere. With kickoff scheduled after sunset, the lights will be on in Kinnick Stadium, and the crowd will likely be as rowdy.

“Sometimes the crowd gets into it for whatever they were doing the six, seven, nine hours before the game,” Rodriguez said with a laugh. “They seem to be more prepared for the game at night than those noon kickoffs, if you know what I mean. I'm sure their students and the fans will be juiced up — if that's the right word —for the night game.”

But if you ask Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta, there’s a fine line between use and abuse. For the Hawkeyes’ three home games so far this season, Barta hasn’t been pleased.

“I am discouraged, and sometimes downright disgusted, by a small minority of alcohol abusers who ruin the game-day experience and give Hawkeye tailgating a bad name,” Barta wrote in a guest editorial in the Iowa student newspaper, The Daily Iowan.

Barta suggested that Iowa fans still have fun but do so responsibly. Regardless whether the fans in Kinnick Stadium are staying warm because of their beverage choice or layers of clothing, nothing could shine brighter under the moonlight than the Wolverines’ rumored throwback ensemble.

Against Iowa, the Wolverines may complement their white away jerseys with white pants, but an Athletic Department spokesman told The Michigan Daily last night he had “no definitive answer.” The uniform change would include everyone, even the 300-pound linemen.

“I can’t imagine,” left tackle Mark Ortmann said with a laugh. “We already have some pretty self-conscious offensive linemen. I don’t know if that will help out."