MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–On Saturday afternoon one West Virginia fan made a lasting impression on Mountaineer fans when he showed up to the Homecoming Game against Kansas in a hospital gown.
Memes broke across the internet reading ‘when you are diagnosed with a kidney stone at 9 a.m. but have a game at noon.'”
However, that wasn’t quite the case for this die-hard WVU fan.
The Springfield, Va. resident was raised in the Mountain State and was a member of the Mountaineer Marching Band from 1983-86. He graduated from WVU’s School of Dentistry in 1990 before joining the United States Navy as a Dental Officer.
O’Neal came to Morgantown on Thursday morning to partake in Homecoming festivities. Later that evening he began having some abdominal pain.
Then Friday morning, O’Neal woke up with severe nausea. Instead of going to meetings for the alumni band, he ended up going to Ruby Hospital to determine what was making him so sick.
“After testing they figured out that I had an irritated appendix that needed to come out,” he said. “About the time that I should have been marching down the street in the Homecoming parade, I went up to surgery.”
Despite missing the Homecoming Parade, O’Neal was bound and determined not to miss the game. Thanks to a team of hard working nurses, doctors and other staff members, O’Neal got cleared to go to the game on Saturday morning.
As a joke, the Washington, D.C. native went to the game in his hospital gown and got the reaction of a lifetime.
“I did it as a joke because the alumni band had been sending me well wishes all night long because they were all missing me not being there,” he said. “I was like I’ll just show up in the stands because I couldn’t march because I had missed practice. Practice was that morning at 6 a.m. So I was in the stands when they got up there after their performance. Every time I went out to use the bathroom or anything, I was mobbed by people that wanted pictures with me.”
O’Neal is doing fine after his surgery and enjoyed watching a Mountaineer win over the Jayhawks.
While he doesn’t make it back for many football games, the alumni band secretary makes sure never to miss a Homecoming, even if it means coming in a hospital gown.
O’Neal has always cherished every minute of being a member of the marching band and it is something he is proud of.
Everything from early mornings, inclement weather conditions to finding a ride to the stadium, hours of hard work and the friendships made his tenure in the band special.
“The band never ever leaves. The band never ever drinks. They stay after the game for 30 minutes playing a post concert that most people don’t know about,” O’Neal said. “And it was the camaraderie of doing all of that together and it sounds like I’m griping about how horrible it was but it wasn’t. It was just the opposite. You have the respect of the fans. The fans at Mountaineer Field love us. We never had that before. All of a sudden instead of being the geeks that were getting picked on in high school, you were treated with respect. We would of done anything to continue what we were doing and we did. We haven’t stopped since. We still come back every year for alumni band, which next year is going to be the 50th anniversary for the alumni band.”
The love of his alma mater, the football team and the Pride of West Virginia was enough to bring this fan to stands.