Take Your Ritalin, Garth, and Bring on the Nittany Lions

Pitt Football vs. Penn State

Who is Pitt’s biggest rival on the gridiron? More specifically, which rivalry should have its more permanent renewal prioritized by Pitt’s athletic administration: Pitt-Penn State or Pitt-West Virginia?

That should be a no-brainer–even for a Mountaineer.

(Ain’t I a stinker?)

I suppose, now that shots have been fired from my own musket, I would be remiss not to say the return of the Backyard Brawl would excite me. That series produced some of the fondest Pitt football memories I’ve ever had, from Pete Gonzalez to Terry Murphy in triple-overtime to Kevan Barlow running wild at Three Rivers Stadium, to the shot heard ’round the world: 13-9.

Right now, though, it’s more fun watching them ride shotgun to Oklahoma and most of Texas in the Big XII (are we still doing Roman numerals for college football, or nah?), where their nearest rival–pardon me, “rival”–is Iowa State.

In the immortal words of Pittsburgh’s own ‘Count Floyd,’ “Ooh, scary!”

With the egregious exception of Trump supporters, I’d be hard-pressed to find a group that actually scares me, or brings my blood to a rapid boil, more than Penn State apologists. They just don’t get it.

Hearing “Eat shit, Pitt” from the mouths of Morgantownians just rings hollow anymore. If you want to play the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately card, that program has been mired in pretty much the same mediocrity as Pitt. I’d much rather throw shade at Penn State’s fanbase, because it is constantly poisoned by the lowest common denominator, which deserves nothing less. Four years and three months ago, its I Was Born Better Than You Syndrome, which has bothered me since childhood, got worse.

lot worse.

If you’re a Pitt fan with a Twitter account and a pulse, you’ll agree that Pitt-Penn State is the real rivalry. Pitt-Penn State is the game I had circled on Pitt’s schedule long before its recent release in full. Quite frankly, I wish it were on last year’s schedule.

Sure, a part of me will miss bragging tongue-in-cheek that Penn State hasn’t scored on us in 16 years, but Pitt-Penn State is the matchup that should be here to stay, and by “stay,” I mean longer than four years. Just don’t ever tell that to the Penn State apologists, including those at the administrative level.

When one self-important narrative is sucked dry, they simply leech another, the latest being that Penn State “doesn’t need” Pitt. Oddly enough, attendance seemed to fall just a *trifle* short of their vaunted “107K” for that riveting PSU-Buffalo affair back in September (although, like many ACC officials, I haven’t been to an eye doctor in five and a half years). Their average home attendance is starting to stagnate, while Pitt’s is starting to pick up–and did so more than that of any other Power 5 team in 2015, according to CBS Sports.

Or, failing that, they just make up a new narrative before bothering to check a mirror, as when assistant managing editor David Garth called Pitt fans “out of touch with reality” in an editorial Pittsburgh Post-Gazette blog this weekend.

I could write a whole other post about how, for all the great people in print media I’ve come to know and work with, there have been too many Penn State ties to both major Pittsburgh newspapers for the greater good. At this point, I might have to.

Sticking to the subject of delusional college football fans, however, why don’t we discuss how far some go to create a coach-is-king culture on and around campus, then, when it backfires horribly, scramble like a harried Hackenberg to convince us their patriarch–or JoePa-triarch, as it were–did nothing wrong?

Maybe Mr. Garth would like to ask some of my old college buddies how that worked out for them?

Former Cincinnati basketball coach Bob Huggins arrested in 2004

Maybe he needs reminded that, when you-know-who told those Penn State officials to get the you-know-what off his lawn when asked to resign, Curley and his fellow stooges ran out of there like Moe, Larry and the third wheel at the end of a movie?

Oh well, at least we agree on Light Up Night.

Come on, Penn State folks. You mean to tell me you wouldn’t help us fill all those yellow seats at Heinz Field every other year for the chance to say you told us so? You mean to tell me Beaver Stadium would be the least bit empty when Pitt came to town on a non-conference weekend every other year?

You mean to tell me it doesn’t bother you in the slightest that James Franklin, the man who promised on day one to “Dominate the State” (only to see the state’s best player at the time commit to a conference rival on day two), has watched Pat Narduzzi crush it in his own backyard over the past year?

Here’s a quarter; buy a clue. At least it’s less for you to spend on that damn commemorative beer.

Those of you who are of my generation certainly have had a taste of the Pitt-Penn State rivalry, but not enough of one. It used to be that Pitt-Penn State, in any context, was one of the biggest college football games of the year and must-see TV around the Thanksgiving holiday.

After this past Thanksgiving, on what is widely used as “rivalry weekend” by college football, Florida played Florida State, Georgia played Georgia Tech and Alabama played Auburn, just to name a few. That same weekend, Pitt hosted Miami and Penn State visited Michigan State–oh, and West Virginia hosted the aforementioned Cyclones. Naturally, Pitt and West Virginia played in half-empty stadiums.

What’s wrong with that picture?

Penn State might not want to believe it “needs” Pitt. Penn State might want to believe Pitt fans are the crazy ones for worrying about a school 200 miles away.

I believe Pitt and Penn State need each other to push each other to be better and to better grow each other’s brand. Both play in conferences that yield no true geographic rivalries–not to be confused with made-for-New-York-TV-money rivalries. They are constantly competing for the same audience and the same talent, and together, for minimal travel costs and maximum national exposure, they could put on one hell of a show for all of us. In seven months, I’ll expect nothing short.

I believe Pitt and Penn State football, for some time, have been the same crap in different piles. Pitt has accidented its way into one New Year’s Six bowl game since abandoning its independent status, and Penn State hasn’t won one since 2005, a year in which college football was USC, Texas and everyone else.

I believe Pitt will change this, now armed with a head football coach and administrators who are passionate, engaged and, above all, competent. I believe this is the first time in my life it has had those things simultaneously.

I believe, in a real rivalry, each school cares more about the other than it wants to let on. I believe what really annoys the likes of Mr. Garth is that Pitt is methodically putting itself in position to threaten the status quo.

Maybe, apropos of my recent review of the new Star Wars movie, he would appreciate the wisdom of Master Yoda:

Oh, and, totally off topic, I know–the Riverhounds do more than “exist,” my friend.

But we can talk more about that after September 10th.

(Featured image courtesy of Rick Stewart/Getty Images.)
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One thought on “Take Your Ritalin, Garth, and Bring on the Nittany Lions

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