MORGANTOWN The UConn Huskies were welcomed to Mountaineer Field on Saturday by a group of kinder, gentler West Virginia fans.
Sure, it's not easy to forget that ugly 1996 incident in which a fan hurled a 55-gallon garbage can onto the field that wound up hitting Randy Shannon, who was then the linebackers coach and today is Miami's head coach.
Rather than having one person step up and admit they're the one who threw it, several fans have done so during the years, as if to suggest they take some kind of pride in it. There have been similar stores involving whiskey bottles, batteries, and well, just about anything within reach.
Connecticut’s Andre Dixon (2) and Kashif Moore enter Mountaineer Field carrying the helmet and jersey of slain teammate Jasper Howard.
Saturday was different. So very, very different.
Mountaineers fans united in a way few in sports had ever seen from opposing supporters in the wake of the tragic death of UConn defensive back Jasper Howard, a 20-year-old who died as the result of a senseless on-campus stabbing last Sunday morning.
West Virginia fans made a large sign that read: ''today we are all HUSKIES.'' It was signed by thousands of WVU fans and hanged just inside the tunnel the UConn players ran through when they entered the field.
When they did that, nearly all of the 58,106 in attendance stood, clapped, and cheered for the Huskies.
''I thought the fans from West Virginia were very gracious and very humbling,'' UConn coach Randy Edsall said. ''I've come down to West Virginia when I was at Syracuse and with Boston College, and even here with Connecticut, and I know what type of fans are here and how they root so hard for their football team.
''The sportsmanship and the love and concern they showed for our team - I don't know if you've ever seen that in sport. My hat is off to them. Those were a bunch of class fans, and this is a class coach staff and athletic administration. I would just like to say thank you to them.''
Huskies running back Andre Dixon carried Howard's No. 6 jersey with him onto the field. It, along with his helmet, stayed on the UConn sidelines during of the game, which was won by West Virginia 28-24.
Prior to kickoff, a moment of silence was observed as both teams stood holding hands along the hash marks before they met at midfield for a handshake.
''I was just thinking about Jazz and his family (during the moment of silence) and hoping that we could really do him proud,'' Edsall said. ''I told the team that I think he is proud of us and that he is disappointed that we didn't come out on the right side of the column.
''I know this: He is going to give us more strength. We have one more tough thing to go through Monday (the funeral). We will get through that and be ready to go next week.''
West Virginia coach Bill Stewart said he'd never seen anything like what the Mountaineers supporters did for the Huskies on Saturday. Though it had been talked about on various Web sites, it's not as if the WVU coaches or administration came out and asked the fans to show that kind of support.
''I was so proud,'' he said. ''I want to thank each and every person in the stadium for the class that the Old Gold and Blue showed toward the reception of the UConn Huskies. I'm so proud to be a West Virginian today.''
Stewart went on to praise Edsall for the leadership he's shown in the days since the tragedy.
''This was one of the toughest weeks of my life. I can only imagine Randy Edsall, what a class, class man,'' Stewart said. ''When I call him my friend, he's my friend, and I truly am one of his big admirers. I haven't said much about opposing coaches this year. Well (Saturday) I am. I don't know how they got them ready as good as they did ''
Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org