One of the things that makes college football so great to watch is the rivalries between different schools - Alabama and Auburn, Michigan and Ohio State, Oklahoma and Texas. These are the games that fans circle on their calendars each and every year. Yesterday, it was announced that Pennsylvania will once again have their own major rivalry renewed in 2016 when Pitt hosts Penn State at Heinz Field in the first game of a two-year home-and-home series. In order to know the significance of this, you need to be from these parts. It’s Pennsylvania’s version of the Yankees and Red Sox, where you are either a Penn State fan or a Pitt fan, there is no in between.
Sure 2016 is five years away and the kids who will be taking part in the games haven’t even taken their driver’s test yet, but it gives the fans a reason to be excited. The last game played between the two teams was in 2000 when Pitt defeated Penn State 12-0, but Penn State leads the all-time series 50-42-4. The teams played 58 consecutive games from 1935-1993, the year that Penn State began Big Ten play. So why did the series come to a halt, and what took so long to get it started back up? It is widely known that Coach Joe Paterno of the Nittany Lions has held a grudge against the Panthers since he felt they tried to ruin his plans of an Eastern power conference. Since that time, Pitt went on to strengthen their rivalry with West Virginia in the “Backyard Brawl”.
“Really, I think about what that game is going to be like in 2016, and I’ll make this pitch: Buy your tickets now; first in, best seats”, Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson said.
Pitt has wanted to renew the rivalry for years now and made it clear they wanted to make it more than a two-game series. Penn State’s athletic director Tim Curley said it could go more than two years, but Penn State wanted two home games for each one at Heinz Field. I understand that Beaver Stadium holds 107,000 people and they sell out every game no matter what. Let’s face it, Penn State football is and for the most part, always has been in a better position than Pitt football. Pitt has struggled to fill Heinz Field, which only seats 65,050 people. However, this is the game people around here care about and Pitt and Penn State fans alike will sell out both stadiums each and every year. Should it be held against Pitt that they play in a lesser capacity of a stadium?
What this does signal is the end of the career of Paterno. “JoePa” would only play Pitt over his dead body and by the time 2016 rolls around, he’ll be 89 years-old. Former Pitt head coach and Paterno rival Jackie Sherrill had some words about Paterno.
“I think Joe Paterno is getting soft. The Joe I used to know, he was not that soft. He must be getting soft in his old age or is trying to do the right thing.”
While it is the players of the past that truly understand the rivalry, it doesn’t get lost on the current staff and team either.
“I remember very physical, very passionate games. As you talk to our former players, they talk about this game as THE rivalry for Pitt. Our players want to play in these types of games. I don’t think anywhere I have been where I have talked to alumni and lettermen and fans, they haven’t mentioned that this is our greatest rivalry (ever),” said new Pitt coach Todd Graham of the rivalry with Penn State.
While this is going to only be a small sample size of the rivalry that used to be, I hope it serves more of a example of what COULD be to both universities. While Pitt has their rivalry with West Virginia, Penn State needs this rivalry with Pitt. When the schools see the excitement and hostility around the area building up to these games, I hope they can put their differences aside and give the fans what they really want.
About the Author
Written by Michael Waterloo
I'm currently pursuing my Master's degree in Communication and Journalism from Clarion University. I currently work for Ohio Valley Athletics where I serve as the West Virginia Football Beat Writer and cover West Virginia Men's Basketball as well. I'm a big Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pitt Panthers and Oregon Ducks fan. Follow me on Twitter at @MichaelWaterloo or visit www.ovathletics.com