Sunday, March 1, 2009

BURNIN' DOWN THE COUCH

2009 "Blackened Gold" award winning story


















"My House,
‘S out of the ordinary.
That’s right.
Don’t want to hurt nobody.
Some, things, sure, sweep, me, off, my, feet…
Burnin’ down the house!
"

Burning Down The House Music & Lyrics© 1983 Talking Heads from “Speaking In Tongues"

West Virginia University has 25,000 students. Their unofficial slogan is, “Where greatness is learned and couches are burned.” Unfortunately, every once in a while a house gets in the way as seen above. Then it's just a bigger couch fire.


Above: In Morgantown couch-burning has become practically an everyday occurence! Between 1997-2003, there were "1,129 intentional street fires", that's an average of almost one couch fire every two days! Or on an annual basis, there were six nights where there were 188 couch fires! Either way, it's safe to say that WVU is leading the nation in pyromania.

I wrote a post last week that suggested that the Steelers draft WVU's outstanding quarterback, Pat White. During that article I made the obligatory reference to a couch-burning in Morgantown. Afterwards I got to wondering how this all came about on the West Virginia campus and why it has “caught on”, to make a bad pun, at schools such as Michigan State, UCLA, the University of Maryland and locally, at Indiana University of PA and even at their archrival, Pitt?

In doing my research, I found a mention of the fact that the tradition began “around 30 years ago” according to a story that had been written in 2005. So at least I had the beginning of a time line for "when". The next logical question was "what" was the initial trigger that caused the first couch- burning incident in Morgantown…other than too much beer? Of course, "why" will forever be a question that goes unanswered into perpetuity.

Above: Now here's a guy who has inspired more than his fair share of couch fires over the past four years. If the Steelers draft him will the fires follow him to the North Shore? If so, then it's safe to deduce that Pat White has been lighting many of these couch fires himself! I'm sure the Morgantown Fire department is relieved that he's finally graduating this semester!

West Virginia University has never won an NCAA National Championship in football. They have won or co-won 12 conference championships. They won eight in the Southern Conference (1953-1956, 1958, 1964, 1965, 1967) and 2 in the Big East (1993, 2005). They were also co-champions twice in the Big East (2003, 2004).

West Virginia men's basketball has competed in three basketball championship final matches: the 1959 NCAA final, the 1942 NIT final (at that time, the NIT was considered more prestigious than the NCAA), and the 2007 NIT championship. The closest they ever came to an NCAA national title was a 71-70 loss to California in the 1959 NCAA finals. The Mountaineers did however win the 1942 NIT championship 47-45 over Western Kentucky.

Since the 2005 story referenced it as being “around 30 years ago” when the tradition began, it’s probably actually closer to 40 years ago when WVU, then a member of the Southern Conference, was winning titles with regularity in ‘64, ‘65 and ‘67. This was also coincidentally, the peak of the hippie "make love, not war" movement where riots and demonstrations were also in vogue around the country. Although I’m sure that winning three titles in such a brief span had something to do with "fanning the fires" in Morgantown so to speak.

Above Left: New WVU shirt with burning couch logo.
Right: In a "P.B.& G." exclusive, here is the newest WVU logo to be unveiled this fall.

Today, WVU has become known as the school that burns couches as well as for very often being named, much more importantly, as "the number one party school in the country". These kids really have got it all going on in "Mo'Town".

Above: To be the number one party school in the country, you really have to work at it. This has never been a problem at WVU where if couches aren't burning the shrubbery is!


So in tribute to the creativity and school spirit that these “Hoopleheads” have demonstrated, I thought we’d do an in-depth photo essay here at “Pittsburgh’s Black and Gold” in order for our readers in Pittsburgh and around the world to get a better feeling for the true level of[ intensity that it takes to be a Mountaineer fan. So put on your firehat and asbestos coat and learn what really goes on in Morgantown, the pyromania capital of the United States and maybe the entire world! The following photo-essay will one day be recognized as the definitive research piece ever done on the subject of couch burning in Morgantown, West Virginia! You should save it with your other important papers.

"P.B. & G." SENIOR THESIS: SO WHAT'S GOIN' DOWN IN MORGANTOWN?

Above: Our story starts out, innocently enough, here on the beautiful campus of Faber...er, West Virginia University. Dean Wermer's office is in the administration building, lower center.

Above: An example of some of the beautiful new student housing that's been built. It looks really great! Unless unfortunately, if it's a Saturday night, the "'eers" have just won and a couch happens to land on you as happened to one poor student there recently. Unbelievably, a couch had been thrown from a balcony a few floors up in preparation for a pending couch fire. Hey, who knew somebody'd be walking below? Accidents happen!


Above: Such a serene setting, but then again, chances are that this photo wasn't taken on game day either! Right: A typical dorm room at WVU. Seems kind of plain but notice that there's no couch! This doesn't stop students from sneaking them in after dark and saving them for the night of the "big game"... a continuing problem for campus security and the school's "resident advisers".



Above: Ah the Delta frat house at WVU. Now we're getting warmer! Kind of sinister in appearance, I'm sure that there are tons of couches stockpiled in their basement as well as a multitude of chilling beer kegs, anxiously anticipating giving up their sweet nectar. Below: Half of the fun of burning a couch, apparently, is seeing if you can "take the heat" as this biophysics major is discovering.

Above and Below: The "Play like your couch is on fire" slogan takes on a much greater significance after viewing these photos.

Above: Not very smart. Look closely at this picture. You'll notice that this couch is on fire inside the house (hence the song from the "Talking Heads") ! But don't blame an '80s song for this because these fires have been going on since before the "Talking Heads" were even born! Below, a couchfire has another Morgantown street blocked.



Above:A typical "Hooplehead" sits on a burning couch. Not very smart, but obviously, "He's the man". I'm sure that his girlfriend was impressed too. Below: Another graduate student from the WVU School of Brain Surgery revels as the last remnants of his couch go up in toxic smoke.




Above: Here's an interesting fellow. I was trying to figure out what could possibly be more fun than lying on a burning couch drinking a beer? Unfortunately, I came up empty! Below: Who knows what this guy's trying to accomplish?


Above: One of the more intense couch fires you'll ever find. "The pyromaniacs friend ", gasoline, probably had something to do with it, I'd lay money on that! Notice that no brave men are lying on this couch!

Above: This mode of celebration is spreading like a bad brush fire. From Edmonton, Canada after winning the cup to Below: Our own University of Pittsburgh following the Steeler's most recent SuperBowl XLIII victory on February 1st.

Epilogue:Yes the burning couch syndrome has indeed claimed many the "Target" or "Ikea" brand couches over the last nearly 40 years. But one problem that these students haven't planned for is what they do AFTER they've burned their couch!
Above: This poor student apparently burned his couch and his shirt the night before but didn't plan ahead! Now he has to keep warm with his dog. Easy does it fellah, good doggie. This is where the phrase "three dog night" came from (a very cold night).
Above: The only piece of furniture that escaped unscathed during the last round of pyro-mayhem (new word) in Morgantown.

Above: One guy that we're sure will never be caught DEAD anywhere near Morgantown, West Virginia!!! It's the Browns former quarterback, Tim Couch. Yeah, he stunk, but you don't have to burn him. In fact, Steeler fans would probably like to thank him!