Is Pitt-Penn State still a rivalry?

Is it a rivalry or not? That is the question.

All week long, we’ve heard this question countless times. The fact that sports radio talk show hosts have been debating whether or not Pitt-Penn State is a rivalry tells you all you need to know.

Yes, it’s a rivalry. A million times yes.

If you don’t think Pitt-Penn State is a rivalry, then you haven’t been paying attention. I was in the press box at Heinz Field last season and I can tell you that walking into the stadium was one of the most memorable pre-game walks I have ever taken. Even though the game had not been played in 16 years, the hatred between the schools was very clear. There were plenty of banners and T-shirts as we made our way into Heinz Field. It was the first time I can ever remember spending extra time outside the stadium instead of heading in for the pre-game media meal.

Yes, it was that much fun.

Over the years, I have seen my share of Pitt-Penn State games. I was in the stands at the 1983 game, when coach Joe Paterno kicked a field goal to tie the game at 24-24. Remember, there was no overtime back then, so that’s how it ended.

My stepdad, a University of Pittsburgh graduate, dragged me to a Pitt party in 1981 as the Panthers looked to finish off their undefeated season and claim another National Championship. Penn State, of course, had other ideas that day. Down 14-0 in the first quarter, Penn State stormed back to score 48 unanswered points and ruin the Panthers hopes of winning it all.

I proudly wore my Penn State sweatshirt that afternoon and I can remember a woman at the party telling me to turn it inside out so her husband – who was on the way back from Pitt Stadium – would not see it. I laughed. “Sweetie,” she said, “I’m serious.”

Growing up in the ‘Burgh, Pitt-Penn State was a rite of passage. The game was traditionally played at the end of November. It was cold. Sometimes rainy. Sometimes snowy. It was football.

In 2000, Pitt and Penn State played at Three Rivers Stadium. The unbeaten Panthers defeated the Nits, 12-0, before a packed house. Then, the series just … ended. Without much fanfare, one of the best rivalries in college football disappeared.

A total of 16 years went by. During that time, the rivalry died. When teams don’t play, that’s what happens. The hiatus nearly killed the rivalry.
Until last season. 42-39 was arguably one of the best games in the history of the series. Much like Penn Staters celebrate 48-14 with a fervor, Pitt fans celebrate 42-39. And why not?

Last year’s win was their Super Bowl.

For those who say it’s not a rivalry, I urge you to visit YouTube and simply search Pitt-Penn State. You’ll find hours and hours of full-game videos as well as highlights of some of the best games in the series.

Better yet, go to Beaver Stadium bright and early on Saturday – ticket or not – and simply walk around. Soak in the scene. Find some friends, grab a beer and some food.

And enjoy one of the best rivalries college football has to offer.



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