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Reactions mixed to PSU-Pitt series; Beano Cook says JoePa can be "vindictive and childish"
June 14, 2011 - Cory Giger
It came as terrific news to many -- as expected -- but the resumption of the Penn State-Pitt football series also surprisingly elicited plenty of "Eh, what's the big deal?" reactions Tuesday.
"It's just another game," longtime PSU fan Clark Adelman of Altoona said.
Penn State versus Pitt just another game? Really?
But after talking to several dozen people throughout the afternoon and evening, it came as a surprise to hear a large number of them express similar sentiments to Adelman's.
The rivalry used to be great, they said. It used to be special when the teams played every year and closed the regular season against one another.
To play for just two years, in a home-and-home situation, and have the games in September doesn't exactly thrill some PSU fans.
"Penn State going down to Pittsburgh, they're gonna sell out Heinz Field, it's gonna be the biggest game of their season probably and they will bring a lot of money in for that game," Adelman said. "But for Penn State, it's not gonna make one darn bit of difference."
People like Adelman would rather see that non-conference opponent be a bigger national name like Alabama or Notre Dame.
Or perhaps Miami, which was slotted into the Nittany Lions' 2016 and '17 schedules before backing out, forcing Penn State to go looking for a replacement and finding Pitt as a willing partner.
"I'll take Notre Dame or Alabama any day over Pitt," Joe Buffone of Bellefonte said. "Penn State's got nothing to gain. If they win, they should have. If they lose, it's, 'How the heck did you lose to Pitt?'"
That feeling of superiority by PSU -- or at least the perception of it -- is something that has long angered the Pitt camp and its fans. The series would not have ended if it were up to the Panthers, but they blame Joe Paterno for holding a 30-year-old grudge because Pitt didn't want to join his Eastern all-sports conference.
"I think the Pitt people want to play; they've always wanted to play," said Beano Cook, longtime college football analyst and former sports information director at Pitt.
"It was Paterno [who didn't]. To me it's unbelievable that a series that started in 1893, that the football coach can stop the series, which means the football coach has more power than the president."
Cook went on to add, "Basically I like [Paterno] 80 percent of the time. The other 20 percent of the time I find him vindictive and childish."
It's not all Pitt's fault, either, that the school didn't join Paterno's conference, according to Cook.
"The way Penn State wanted to divide the TV money ... Pitt was against that," he said. "Penn State wanted to take more money for television."
Altoona native Troy Benson played for Pitt in the early 1980s and was on the losing end of arguably Penn State's greatest moment in the series -- a 48-14 thumping of the No. 1 Panthers and quarterback Dan Marino in 1981.
"You had to bring that up," Benson said with a laugh Tuesday night.
Benson made a good point about the series renewing when he said, "I'm not that excited because it's not 2012. It's 2016. Realistically, the chances of JoePa being there are probably not that great. I just can't imagine the series five years from now. It's not that exciting yet."
It would be exciting, Benson added, if the teams finally find a way to play every year.
"I'm glad that they're playing and mad that they should have been playing all along," Benson said.
No matter what negative aspects people are bringing up now, they're sure to be singing a different tune come game week in 2016 and '17.
"How this area gets when the Steelers go on a playoff run is how that week will feel," Ryan Humbertson of Altoona said.
Humbertson is a Pitt alum (1998), while his wife, Amy, graduated from Penn State (1999). They have good-natured arguments about which school is better, and Ryan has had bragging rights for 11 years since Pitt won the last meeting in 2000.
"She'll talk about how Penn State's a much better overall campus and atmosphere and experience to go to school, and I'll talk about how we put more people into the NFL, or better people into the NFL," Ryan Humbertson said.
There's also some good smack talk aimed at that perceived Penn State superiority complex.
"Penn State has such a great, long history and everything," Ryan said, "but I'll remind her that they haven't won anything since 1986."
Humbertson was at least fair with his criticism when he added, "Pitt hasn't either."
Cook said, "It came as a pleasant surprise" to find out the series would be resuming, and many fans feel the same way.
"I want to thank Tim Curley for giving us a game on the football schedule we care about," Joe Preschutti of Boalsburg, a 1970 PSU grad, said about the school's athletic director.
"I think people should just be happy that now they're gonna play in [five] years, and after that, who knows what's going to happen," Penn State football historian Lou Prato said.
It's that uncertainty for the long term and the lack of commitment for a game every year that makes the series feel so different from its heyday.
"It just doesn't have the meaning anymore -- it won't have the meaning anymore -- because of the fact that ... once we went into the Big Ten that changed the complexion of everything," Prato said.
"A lot of the people that are going to the games now don't even remember Pitt and Penn State playing," Adelman said. "We've been in the Big Ten for so long now."
Benson said he thinks the two schools will have to someday be in the same conference for the series to be played on an annual basis. Cook disagrees and says it can be done, pointing to rivalries such as Florida-Florida State and Georgia-Georgia Tech that pit teams from different conferences.
"What made the rivalry so great ... was that it was like the Michigan-Ohio State or USC-UCLA or Auburn-Alabama," Prato said. "It was the last game of the season, and there were always upsets and spoiling someone's season."
Those things may not happen when the games are played in September, and the rivalry may never be what it once was.
But so what.
It's still Penn State versus Pitt, and that alone will make it special.
Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. He can be reached at 949-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.