Saturday, October 22, 2011

Autumn Weekends, or, It's Hard Being a Pitt Fan

My sister just had her first article for the Post-Gazette published this morning! It's about growing up as a die-hard Pitt fan, which is not terribly common. You can read the article here:

This article about autumnal Pitt gamedays reminds me of my own youth; growing up 12-16 years behind my siblings, yet still raised as a Pitt fan. When Sue was in college and I was progressing through elementary school, they sucked. It was not fun to walk into school and talk to my friends who were Penn State fans about that weekends games. Penn State usually won, Pitt usually lost, and that was about it.

I vividly remember the days I would be running around the backyard playing football when I'd get called in for the second half of the Pitt games. I remember trying to go to games against Temple or Rutgers because those were the only games Pitt might win. One of my favorite memories was Halloween Thursday night, 1996, when I came home from trick-or-treating to find the best treat of the night: Pitt on ESPN! They beat Boston College that night for their third win in a four-win season. That same season, my brother took a trip to the Horseshoe at Ohio State to see the Buckeyes trounce Pitt 72-0.

I also remember the rise. Pitt had been bad the whole time I'd been a fan growing, so when a bowl game became a real possibility in 1997, it was something to talk about. After starting 2-1, Pitt upset the once-mighty Miami Hurricanes on Thursday night ESPN, resulting in some torn-down goalposts at Pitt Stadium, if I remember correctly. That season they needed two overtimes to beat Rutgers and two wins against perennial powers, Virginia Tech and West Virginia, to become bowl-eligible. They upset the Hokies, then turned around and upset West Virginia in a three-overtime game that I remember vividly. WVU kicked a field goal in the third overtime. Pete Gonzalez converted a 4th-and-17 to Jake Hofart keep the drive alive before another 4th down conversion to Terry Murphy for the win and bowl-eligibility.

Since then, it's been an up-and-down ride filled with higher expectations. A win in the last game at Pitt Stadium against hated rival Notre Dame, a blocked field goal attempt by LaVar Arrington to preserve a loss at Penn State, Walt Harris' Wide Receiver U putting players into the upper echelon of the NCAA and into the NFL, beating rival Penn State, 12-0, in their last meeting, Pitt garnering national attention, and ultimate under-performance by teams we expected more from over the years.

My memory has blurred a bit since my childhood. I've seen so many games on TV and in-person as a student that I am starting to forget details. I remember seeing some amazing things in person, like most of Larry Fitzgerald's catches, QB Tyler Palko (my favorite Pitt player of all time) running over a Boston College safety, and, of course, Aliquippa alumnus Darrelle Revis' silly punt return against West Virginia. Most importantly, I remember the day Pitt kept West Virginia out of the national championship game in a fluke win at my least favorite place in the world Mountaineer Field.

At the end of the day, sports are sports. They're nothing more and nothing less. Everything was magnified when I was a child, so I remember those events like they happened yesterday. I look forward to the day that I'm raising my kids in Pittsburgh, playing football in the backyard until it's time to come in for kickoff. I miss Pittsburgh today for that reason and for the reason that people honestly care about their sports in the Steel City.

No offense, Seattle, but your sports fans are lame and flaky. Watch your Huskies today, but know that you wouldn't care if they were 3-4 like my Panthers. Hail to Pitt!

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