For most of the twentieth century, West Virginia University fans cheered on their favorite football team at Mountaineer Field, once located between Woodburn Hall and the present-day Life Sciences Building. Known colloquially as Old Mountaineer Field, the stadium seated 34,000 spectators and was home to famous football games such as the Backyard Brawl, a longstanding rivalry between the West Virginia University Mountaineers and University of Pittsburgh Panthers. Mountaineer Field closed in 1979 and was demolished in 1984 after the new Mountaineer Field, now Milan Puskar Stadium, opened in 1980 on the Evansdale campus.
Mountaineer Field was constructed in 1924, amid the golden age of American sports. By the twentieth century, sports had transformed from informal games to structured physical activities bound by codified rules. While other states with large cities developed major leagues, West Virginia organized sports thrived on the local level, springing up from coal company towns and railroads.1 West Virginia University's teams, however, provided what sports historian Bob Barnett calls a unifying
symbol” for sports fans across the state.2 West Virginia University wanted to enter the golden age of American sports with a stadium of its own. The Mountaineers originally practiced at what was nicknamed Splinter Stadium, due to its cheap wooden bleachers; this stadium was located at the current MountainLair parking lot site and sat 10,000 spectators.3 In the 1920s, athletic director, Harry Stansbury, acquired funds for Mountaineer Field, along with a Field House for basketball. The University built a horseshoe-shaped stadium seating 34,000, twice as large as the Morgantown population at the time.4 The first game held on the Mountaineers' permanent home turf was on September 27, 1924, against Stansbury's alma mater, Wesleyan College. Mountaineer Field was formally dedicated on November 14, 1925 with a parade through Morgantown, a ceremony with the governor, Howard Gore, and a game against the Penn State Nittany Lions. It was at this game that the Mountaineers solidified one of its biggest rivalries. Beginning in the 1930s, Mountaineer Field was also the battle ground for the Backyard Brawl, a rivalry with the University of Pittsburgh Panthers that dates back to the 1890s. By the 1950s, the Mountaineers rose out of national obscurity with Coach Art Pappy Lewis leading the team to win five Southern Conference championships and rank seventh in the nation.5 While Mountaineer Field hosted countless football games, it was also an important space for physical education classes, ROTC practice, commencement ceremonies, and special public events. Mountaineer Field's football weekends drew thousands into Morgantown and stimulated the development of hotels, bars, restaurants, and shops, particularly in Sunnyside, a neighborhood bordering Mountaineer Field.As the twentieth century progressed, West Virginia University began to outgrow Mountaineer Field. Student enrollment spiked after World War II. More female students and African American students could take advantage of athletic programs because of racial integration in the 1950s and Title IX in the 1970s. Furthermore, the state of West Virginia declined as college athletics nationally grew more professional and commercialized. An upgraded stadium could better reflect the success of the University football team and bolster state image and morale.6Because of its location in downtown Morgantown, Mountaineer Field could not be renovated to accommodate more spectators and larger facilities. Despite controversy, a new stadium would be built on a University golf course on the Evansdale campus. The Mountaineers played their last game at Mountaineer Field in November 1979, against the Pitt Panthers. They lost the game and ended an era.7Though closed, students in the 1980s played informal sports, practiced for the Marching Band, and sunbathed at the dilapidating Mountaineer Field. The property was finally razed in 1987 and football games have been played at the new Mountaineer Field, now Milan Puskar Stadium, ever since.8