Ah, yes. The weekend of Thanksgiving where college football’s rivalries take place. This is an exceptionally large weekend for fans of teams like Ohio State – Michigan, Auburn – Alabama, and Pitt – West Virginia. Except, this year it’s different.
Thanks to conference realignment, WVU moved to the Big 12 while Pitt will be making a jump to the ACC. Because of that, both teams had to remove each other from their schedules ending a streak that has gone on every year since 1919 (with the exception of 1940-42 because of WWII). They have also been playing each other since 1895 (a WVU 8-0 victory in Wheeling, WV) with the exceptions of 1896-97, 1899, 1905, 1911-12, 1914-16 (WWI), and 1918. Pitt owns the series with a 61 – 40 – 3 record.
This rivalry has been played 104 times which makes it the 28th longest rivalry game in history and it’s had it’s share of great moments and players. Everyone can remember Dec 1, 2007 when WVU just needed to beat a 4-7 Pitt squad to punch their ticket to New Orleans and the BCS Title Game. We also know the outcome, a Pitt 13-9 upset, which had me depressed for a week. Oh, the nightmares. We also remember what took place two years later when the ninth rated Panthers came in to Morgantown looking to lock up a Big East title and BCS bid. The Mountaineers used the speed of Noel Devine and the foot of Tyler Bitancurt to take down Pitt 19-16. That game was the most watched game in ESPN 2 history.
For the older ones in the group, you can remember games that involved Bill Mckenzie beating #20 Pitt in 1975 or a 1976 Panther team led by Tony Dorsett that squeaked out a 24 -16 win on way to a National Title. In 1982, the Panthers, again, came in with an undefeated record and #2 ranking and left with a 16 – 13 victory. That game was led by a Pitt QB by the name of Dan Marino. 1988 had the showcase of Major Harris and a high flying Mountaineer offense that easily beat the Panthers 31 – 10 on way to a Title Game appearance in the Fiesta Bowl.
My first game in person was a 1998 game at Three Rivers Stadium. (Pitt had beaten WVU in OT the year before in Morgantown leaving the Mountaineers with a sour taste in their mouth.) I witnessed one of the greatest passing performances in the series history that night when Marc Bulger threw up and down the field for 409 YDS and 6 TD’s in the WVU 52 – 14 victory.
Once the conference realignment talks started and teams switched leagues, people got excited and were looking forward to what could lie ahead. What they failed to see was that the tradition of college football is being left behind. Fans in the WV-PA area lived for this game. If their team had a down year they still had the Backyard Brawl to look forward to because in that game, records were thrown out and anything could happen. The week of the Brawl was one for Pitt and WVU fans got together for the friendliest of talk (Who am I kidding? Some of the trash talk got brutal) but that’s what made it so great.