It’s OK that PSU-Pitt rivalry will come to an end
Editor’s note: Due to a production error, the continuation of this column did not appear in Tuesday’s edition. The entire column is being reprinted today.
It’s Penn State-Pitt week once again. The last one we will see for some time. And truth be told, I’m perfectly fine with that.
At the risk of sounding blasphemous around these here parts, it’s OK with me that the Nittany Lions and Panthers are wrapping up their four-year series and will not be playing annually for the foreseeable future.
A lot of you may strongly disagree with that. I’m guessing if you’re reading this in the actual newspaper (not online), you probably do disagree.
The overwhelming majority of newspaper readers these days are older folks. (And thank you all very, very, very much for keeping us in business!)
A huge percentage of Penn State fans also are older folks who have loved and loyally supported the program for decades. And you have great memories of many wonderful games against Pitt, particularly during the rivalry’s heyday in the late 1970s and early ’80s.
But THAT rivalry is gone. It’s been gone for a long, long time. And it’s not ever coming back.
What currently exists during Penn State-Pitt week is still cool. There’s no doubt about it.
The story lines are more interesting than most game weeks, fans on both sides get a little more fired up, and of course, there’s often some good trash talk from one or both sides.
All of that makes this a vastly better non-conference game than Idaho or Buffalo.
But quite frankly, so much of this rivalry comes down to so many people wanting to talk about the past. To relive the glory days. To brag about 48-14. To compare legendary players. And so on, and so on.
Problem is, the past is far more interesting than the present when it comes to these teams playing each other.
The game three years ago was awesome. Pitt won, 42-39, hanging on for dear life as PSU mounted a huge second-half comeback at Heinz Field.
Two years ago, the Lions won easily, 33-14. Largely forgettable game.
Last year, the Lions humiliated the Panthers, 51-6. A nice win for PSU but really nothing more.
Penn State is favored by 14 this year. Regardless of who wins, hopefully the game will at least be close and compelling.
But when it’s over, the game will be largely forgotten. Just like most games played by most teams against non-conference opponents in week three.
Whoever wins or loses, it won’t make or break the season of either team.
And while bragging rights will go to the winner, college football nowadays is built on doing well in your conference. That determines if your season is a success or not.
Now, because this likely will be the final PSU-Pitt meeting until at least 2030, there will be some additional bragging rights in this game. Whichever team wins, its fans will be able to hold that over fans from the other school for many years, just as Pitt fans did with their 12-0 win from 2000 until the series resumed in 2016.
I’m burying the lede a good bit here, but a big reason why this series has lost its luster is because it just doesn’t have anywhere near the same appeal to younger people as it does older folks.
Anybody who’s younger than 40 either wasn’t alive or was still in diapers when that famous 48-14 Penn State win over Dan Marino took place in 1981.
It might be the favorite PSU memory of all time for some Lions fans, but it means virtually nothing to a huge portion of the fan base, including the students currently on campus.
Neil Rudel loves this rivalry, as he should, having seen it at its heyday. But Neil brought up a great point during our postgame video Saturday night.
If indeed these teams don’t meet again until 2030, which seems to be the earliest things can be resumed, then Penn State and Pitt would have played only eight times in 38 years at that point.
That’s two generations of fans who will have grown up with the rivalry being sort of an afterthought. A lot of those fans won’t be clamoring to annually resume a rivalry they didn’t grow up watching and don’t care a great deal about.
I’m not going to get too deep into the finances and logistics of scheduling here. Either you understand them or you don’t at this point.
Penn State wants to play two cupcakes and one solid team in the non-con. You may think the Lions should play more good teams, but it doesn’t matter what you think. James Franklin doesn’t want to do it, and Penn State doesn’t have to — not when more than 100,000 people show up for a gawd-awful Idaho team and another 100,000-plus for Buffalo.
Penn State wants to rotate different opponents in that one quality non-con slot every year — such as Auburn, Virginia Tech and West Virginia — and isn’t just going to slot Pitt in every single year.
Nor should it.
Whether Pitt fans want to hear it or not, Pitt needs Penn State a whole lot more than Penn State needs Pitt. (Email me below all of your angry responses to that, Pitt fans.)
So, here we are. The last Penn State-Pitt game week for a number of years. Let’s enjoy this week. It certainly should be fun.
Just not as fun, and nowhere near as meaningful, as it once was.
Cory Giger covers Penn State football from the Altoona Mirror.