CLARKSBURG, W.Va. - Before he was one of ESPN’s most tenured play-by-play announcers, Mike Patrick was a West Virginia sports fan who grew up in the Chestnut Hills area of Clarksburg.
As luck would have it, one of the most memorable moments of his broadcasting career unfolded at Milan Puskar Stadium: a proud moment as a professional, but a devastating one as a fan.
Even after calling Sunday Night Football games for more than two decades, Patrick relished every opportunity to broadcast WVU football. He also took satisfaction in staying neutral in the booth, something he found incredibly challenging on this particular night in 2007.
“I called the Pitt-West Virginia game where Pitt beat, I’ll say it now, us, for a chance to go to the national championship, and I guarantee you nobody will ever know I was from West Virginia listening to a tape of that game,” said Patrick. “When the game was over, I walked into the vacant booths next to me and screamed my brains out because I was crushed by the whole thing, but I did have enough discipline that during the game, nobody else knew it.”
Patrick hopes some more positive moments will come soon for WVU football fans. After he was honored in his hometown of Clarksburg Monday afternoon, the 35-year ESPN play-by-play announcer echoed what many other college football experts have already predicted: Dana Holgorsen’s 2018 offense could be among the nation’s best.
“As long as the quarterback is healthy, we may have to win them 45-44, but I think they’re going to win a lot,” said Patrick. “I have rooted for them off-camera every game that they’ve ever played in any sport. I’m a dedicated Mountaineer – that’s never going to change – but now, I can be more open about it.”
But Patrick thinks the 2018 Mountaineers will have to thread together a slew of accomplishments if they’re going to be remembered as the greatest team in program history. It’s a tall task to take that title from Don Nehlen’s 1988 squad, which Patrick calls the best WVU outfit of all time.
As the 30th anniversary of that Fiesta Bowl team approaches, Patrick said it’s a legacy that’s still worth celebrating.
“He [Nehlen] was a brilliant coach. He’s the best coach this school ever had,” said Patrick. “It used to drive me nuts when people would say ‘he’s only winning nine games or ten games.’ Really? He gets four players a year out of the state…Realize where we are. We don’t get many players from this state. We’re not that big. He was brilliant.”
The Mountaineers outscored opponents 493-208 that year, on the road to the program’s first perfect regular season and a berth in the Fiesta Bowl.
An injury to Major Harris slowed the Mountaineers in that national championship bout with Notre Dame, as they fell 34-21.
“Major doesn’t get hurt, West Virginia wins a national championship, and they’d have statues all over the state to Nehlen,” said Patrick.
Instead of erecting a statue, city officials in Clarksburg unveiled a sign commemorating Patrick’s successful broadcasting career. As he shook hands with city council members, posed for photos with sports fans and shared laughs with some of his former classmates at Washington Irving, he was reminded of how he credits his success to what his hometown taught him.
“I really do,” said Patrick. “The values that my grandparents gave me and that I grew up with, my friends and the things they believed in and stood for, I’ve carried those with me. Whatever good I’ve done, whatever charitable act I’ve ever committed in my entire life, was because of the people I grew up with and the things they believed in.”
He took what he learned in his hometown to stadiums and arenas all over the nation, and many treasured his voice – including the players he covered.
“We’re getting ready to do a Jets game in New York, and Joe Namath walks into the booth and says, ‘hi Mike, I’m Joe Naimath,’” said Patrick. “Really? You’re introducing yourself to me? It’s supposed to be the other way around.
“Those are the kinds of things that just blew me away, and continue to, like today did.”