I helped the Pitt Panthers defeat the Penn State Nittany Lions for the national championship in 1994. I was Eleven.
It was played in the stadium made up of both my parents and the neighbors backyards. I rolled out from intense pressure and threw my neighbor Johnny Lavia the game winning pass in the corner of the end zone. He had to dive around my neighbors tree to haul it in.
Funny thing is that just two weeks later we both defeated Penn State to win the NCAA basketball tournament, which that year was played in his parents backyard. He was the starting shooting guard that made the last second shot under pressure and I was the power forward who tipped it in for the win.
We played for Pitt and we played against Penn State because that was the rivalry, and even though it was no longer the year’s marquee game of the eastern football schedule we were surrounded by family members and neighbors who remembered when it was.
A freshman at Pitt or Penn State would have been 2 years old when it occurred. The rivalry hadn’t been meaningful for a solid decade before that. Perhaps that is why this current version of the rivalry feels slightly meaningless.
The kidz don’t know their history.
I remember sitting at old Pitt Stadium when my cousin Mark would take me to games in the mid to late 90’s. I remember singing along with the thousand deep student section as they changed the words to the Pitt Fight song so that it said “Freshmen suck! Penn State sucks! P E N N S T SUCKS!”
It really didn’t make much sense. They hundreds of kids that make up the current student section don’t sing it anymore.
Let’s get to the point…….
The rivalry is never going to be what it used to be, because for very different reasons neither Pitt or Penn State will ever be what it used to be.
As football teams. Not academic institutions.
Pitt is a basketball school now. They play in the ACC and not the Big East. Sports fans in Pittsburgh wrote them off long ago and are unlikely to get excited about a November game at an empty Heinz Field against the Duke Blue Devils or the Wake Forrest Demon Deacons.
Kids aren’t in their backyards right now in suburban Pittsburgh pretending to be the quarterback of the Pitt Panthers.
Pitt football is never going to be a big thing again
Penn State is, well, ummm……
It’s kind of like…. Well…..I mean……What can you say?
They will never recover from what happened there. To make it worse their fans are the sports equivalent of Donald Trump supporters. They aren’t going to accept the truth. They aren’t going to let it affect the way the act and feel. The truth ain’t the truth. They are correct. The media has it out for them.
You can say what you want and they will respond with a simple “WE ARE.”
We know. We get it.
It’s almost sad. There is nothing good to say about it. No good can come from saying anything about the situation.
Seriously though I get it.
I’ve sat in Beaver Stadium. I’ve heard the fans chant “WE ARE!”. I understand that it means more than just two words. I understand that Penn State is about more than a football team.
I understand that it is a reputable institution in terms of academics. But now, unfortunately, only academics.
In the same respect the dozens of hardcore Pitt fans are the sports equivalent of Bernie Sanders supporters. They have a completely unrealistic view of what their team is capable of. They get super upset when confronted with reality. The system is obviously rigged if the masses can’t see what they see. As hyped as they were in spring practices they won’t care about college football anymore come November.
It’s like two old boxers who can’t hang with the type of opponents they used to so they just fight each other. They hype it up and play on nostalgia. Then they deliver a mediocre product.
That is what these teams deliver these days, mediocre products, and for very different reasons they deserve to not be cared about.
Because these were two proud programs who produced legendary players and heroes. They took kids from all around Pennsylvania and made them men and sent them back to their hometowns as examples of how to do things the right way. They became teachers and football coaches and raised generations of Pitt and Penn State players and fans.
Western Pennsylvania was a better place because of this rivalry.
They played each other yearly and it was a meaningful game with national championship implications or at least bowl game implications or in the worse years implications at the water cooler.
But a lot can happen in 16 years, and it has, and I don’t feel the way I should about this game I grew up watching. This game I played so many times in my backyard. This game that was everything that was right about football and Western Pennsylvania.
I really wish these two teams would never play each other again.