Tony Caridi has seen his fair share of Mountaineer men’s basketball and football games in his career as he approaches his 37th season in West Virginia. The exact number is lost on him — definitely over 1,000, he says, and possibly as high as 1,200 — but through them all, he’s been up close and personal for all of the highs and lows of WVU sports over the last few decades.
Caridi admits that he’s been lucky. While at times it may not seem like it, WVU’s teams have had considerable success during his time — including seven conference titles and three major bowl wins in football and a Big East title and a Final Four in basketball.
That team success, he says, has even helped him stay at his post for as long as he has.
“I think that you have a better chance of being successful as a team’s announcer if the team is successful,” he explained. “If there are those watershed moment games that you’re associated with you become a small part of that game and so people kind of say you’re part of the fabric of it.
He’s had plenty of watershed moments to pick from over the years.
Of course, high on his list is the 2008 Fiesta Bowl victory over Oklahoma. He recalls that the Mountaineers were such underdogs that he planned to skip the post-game interview so he could make men’s basketball game at Notre Dame the next day.
In order to get there, he’d have to leave quickly and make it there after a red eye flight to Chicago on a tight schedule.
“As the game’s going on and they score and they score, I’m like, this is about to be one of the biggest wins in school history,” he recalled. “I can’t leave, I’ve got to do the post-game show.”
After some moving and shaking, he was able to locate a donor that was making the same trip the next morning, and he was lucky enough to hitch a ride. When the final buzzer sounded, the Mountaineers had trounced the Sooners 48-28 in one of the most memorable games in program history.
Caridi also recalls a little further back to a similar feeling before the 2000 Music City Bowl against Ole Miss — Don Nehlen’s final game as head coach at West Virginia.
“Coach Nehlen had announced that he was going to retire. That came in the game in the regular season after Syracuse,” he said. “But what was going on the scenes was that all the coaches, also, they had lost their jobs. They were done. You had no idea who was going to be retained by Rich [Rodriguez] when he came in.”
That uncertainty among the coaching staff took the focus away from the game, with many making and taking phone calls with the hope of employment in the next season.
“There’s no way they’re going to be able to go,” Caridi recalls thinking. “It’s just, they’re going to go out there and it’s not going to be good. Instead, it was the exact opposite.”
West Virginia ended up beating the Rebels 49-38, holding off a late comeback led by freshman quarterback Eli Manning.
When it comes to hoops, there is one particular run that is close to Caridi — the Mountaineers’s 2010 run to the Final Four. He remembers noticing during the season that that squad had something special to them.
“They had this tremendous ability to find ways to win, largely in part to Da’Sean Butler who ended the season with six game-winning shots,” he recalled.
When they won the Big East Tournament title, he remembers thinking that they would be able to make a run — if they had the energy.
That run took Caridi and the Mountaineers to all sorts of spots, including his hometown of Buffalo, New York.
“We go to Buffalo and we start going, we get Morgan State, and then we get Missouri, and the next thing is a comfortable place, Syracuse,” he said. “You’re comfortable, you’ve played games there, and it’s Washington — they don’t know about you and you don’t know about them — and you’re able to win that game.”
The Mountaineers then had to face the star-studded lineup of the Kentucky Wildcats, which included future NBA All-Stars John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, among other future pros.
“Again, that would fall into that category that realistically, going into it you’re going like, this isn’t going to happen, right?” Caridi said.
When the Mountaineers did get that eventual win — their first Final Four since 1959, and their first major run under Bob Huggins — Caridi, a Syracuse alumnus himself, remembers it as an all-time great moment.
“The first game I ever did was inside the Carrier Dome — in the stands — and so to go in there and win those two games and then get to go to the Final Four it was awesome personally and then it was awesome to see the reaction back here because it had been so long since West Virginia had reached the Final Four,” he remembered.
Of course, these are just three memories of his long career as the Mountaineers’ play-by-play announcer. An entire generation of fans has grown up hearing his description of the games, as he’s been in the post since 1997 — but he still insists that Jack Fleming is the true Voice of the Mountaineers.
As year 37 approaches, Mountaineer fans hope that new memories will be made sooner rather than later — but with 1,200 games under his belt, it’s tough for Caridi to even pick out a favorite.
“I don’t have one, I think there’s a collection,” he said. “One of these days I’ll have to sit down probably and put them into perspective, but fortunately we’ve had a lot to pick from.”