What do USC vs. UCLA, Texas vs. Texas A&M, Florida vs. Florida State, and Clemson vs. South Carolina all have in common? They are major college football programs, located in the same state, who just happen to HATE each other. Of course, we the fans love those grudge games!
Pitt vs. Penn State falls into the same category, except that these two teams no longer play each other. You may be wondering, “Why is that?” My response to you is, “Good question.” From 1893 until 2000, the Pittsburgh Panthers and the Penn State Nittany Lions sought to pummel the other for bragging rights in the State of Pennsylvania. It was one of the best college football rivalries…period. If that was the case, then what’s the problem? The problem’s name is Joe Paterno, otherwise known as JoePa, the head coach of Penn State’s football team.
JoePa wields a mighty sword and has chosen year after year not to play Pitt. He’s still upset that Pitt joined the Big East Conference for basketball in 1982, after Penn State was denied an opportunity to do so. Paterno wanted Pitt to help him create a conference where Pitt and Penn State would play each other in all sports. Pitt declined and the grudge factor was on. At the time, both football teams were independent of conference affiliation, so, they were free to choose all their opponents. Now, Penn State is in the Big Ten and the Panthers are in the Big East. Paterno couldn’t wait until the Pitt vs. Penn State football contract expired in 2000. Neither he nor Penn State have attempted in earnest to revive the rivalry. Penn State just inked a deal to play Rutgers, Pitt’s Big-East rival, in 2014. A coincidence? I think not.
Dave Wannstedt, a Pitt grad and former NFL head coach, is now at the helm of Pitt’s BCS-ranked football team. Wannstedt recruits in the same places as Paterno and is turning up the heat on PA football parity. It also seems as though Paterno is the only one who doesn’t want to revive the once longstanding rivalry. Even Nittany Lion faithful have been calling on Paterno and the school to put Pitt on the schedule. Petitions have been signed. Even members of the Pennsylvania legislature have attempted to reverse the travesty. Penn State claims that playing Pitt would be a financial burden on the school. What? So, traveling to the mid-west for games with Iowa and Michigan is not a financial burden. Oh please! The bottom line is JoePa not only holds a grudge but is scared of Pitt. The Panthers are the one team that can make him look bad.
Unfortunately, fans are suffering from the pettiness. We miss the smack-talk while tailgating and in the stands, the bands trying their best to out-perform each other, the cheerleaders trying to pump up the faithful, and fans yelling so loud you believe you’ve actually gone deaf. At this point, we want someone, anyone, to have bragging rights. Just play the game.
Well, the good thing is, at 82, JoePa won’t coach forever. Hopefully common sense and the desire to get the rivalry back into the national spotlight will prevail. The extra revenue the game will generate won’t hurt either. While I’m not a fan of the Bowl Championship Series, it would be great if the BCS slotted both teams together in a BCS bowl game. That’s probably the only way these two great programs will meet any time soon. Thanks JoePa!