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Will renewal lead to reconciliation? Let’s hope

June 16, 2011
By Neil Rudel ( , The Altoona Mirror

In the big picture, Tuesday's announcement that Penn State and Pitt would renew its football rivalry for two games in 2016 and 2017 is not a big deal.

It would be a much bigger deal if the Nittany Lions, who have been reluctant partners, would agree to an annual game.

But that's an old story, and after divorcing its former No. 1 rival - both sides can share equally in the blame - a reconciliation dance every season is something the Penn State brass has yet to embrace.

Article Photos

The Associated Press file photo by Gene J. Puskar
Joe Paterno and former University of Pittsburgh coach Foge Fazio talk prior to a game in 1983.

Pitt would still like to date Penn State on equal terms, but the Panthers aren't as sexy to the Lions anymore.

Penn State thinks it can do better, and in many ways it has: Since the two last danced in 2000, it's expanded Beaver Stadium to 110,000 and will fill it for Indiana State, even if some of the natives are restless over the STEP program.

The Lions also are well entrenched in their relationship with the Big Ten, and although there's no longer that one special lady they have their eyes on, there are a whole lot of candidates - Ohio State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Iowa and Michigan - who can spin the Lions around and all of them will sell out every seat.

Pitt, meanwhile, has trouble filling its Big East dance card with attractive options.

Maybe, just maybe, this two-year flirtation - probably after the Lions' lead swinger, Joe Paterno, is no longer on the sidelines, but even that's not a certainty - will rekindle that old flame.

If it does, though, let's hope Penn State will commit to a season-opening game every season, whether it's an annual home-and-home that Pitt will want or something close, like a 6-and-4 that the Lions may require because they feel they have an upper hand.

(Before the Pitt fans start screaming, keep in mind that from 1903 through 1969, a total of six games were played at Penn State - regardless of the fact that, as Beano Cook would be quick to suggest, it was mutually agreed upon.)

To people like Cook and many of us who grew up with the rivalry, no matchup is or has been equal. And, indeed, from the mid-1970s until the early-80s, the game had a big hand in deciding the national champion. It was growing into one of the nation's top games.

Great seasons were capped, and bad seasons were salvaged. High school teammates were playing against each other. Friends, family members and towns were pitted on opposite sides.

It was truly what an instate rivalry is supposed to be - a combination of dislike and mutual respect, a passionate event that Penn State still has not replaced and, until it's restored annually, it may never.

And that's a shame. It's also a shame that the two schools are in separate leagues, decisions that changed everything and created an uneven playing field.

By the time they play again, the 16-year hiatus will have lost nearly a generation of fans, and as it is now, it will be significant in Altoona and Johnstown and Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania, and much of the rest of the Nittany Nation will view it as just another game.

Even though it started in 1893.

At some point, you'd hope the history and tradition and everything for which the rivalry stood would count for more than the differences between the schools.

Besides, with Nebraska's addition to the Big Ten, do the Lions really need a stronger non-conference game any year than Pitt?

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or

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