Pitt series never will be matched

Commentary

Ohio State is now a bigger game than Pitt, of course, and always will be unless the Panthers someday enter the Big Ten, and that ship has probably sailed for our lifetime.

But that doesn’t mean the Buckeyes are a bigger rival, especially among the fans who make rivalries what they are.

Pitt is Penn State’s oldest rival, and though luster has been removed from the series since both went their separate ways — which doesn’t need rehashed again here — you saw last year at Heinz Field what this rivalry means.

The attendance of 69,983 was the largest to witness a game in Pittsburgh. Ever.

That includes the Steelers.

James Franklin found out the hard way. He tried to downplay the rivalry and, consequently, the Lions weren’t ready to play and were down 28-7 before the game turned into a classic.

Rivalries aren’t made. They’re born.

Penn State-Pitt had so much in common geographically as eastern allies and foes that the rivalry was natural. Both battled for the same players on the recruiting trail, and both anchored each other’s schedule as the appropriate season finale. They played in all sports.

Families, even here in Altoona, had divided loyalty, adding to the fun.

No matter what competition, it’s not a rivalry until the other guy wins, and Pitt beat Joe Paterno to the national championship in 1976.

That stoked Paterno, and the fact that both teams were in the thick of contention for No. 1 in the early 1980s — Pitt with Dan Marino, Penn State with Todd Blackledge — brought the rivalry to its peak.

The Nittany Lions’ 63-14 victory over Ohio State in 1994 was a great performance and belongs in the conversation among the school’s greatest wins.

But it’s still below 48-14 over Pitt in 1981, at Pitt, when the Panthers were No. 1, which stands — 36 years later — as the greatest regular season victory in PSU history.

Most younger Penn State graduates who didn’t grow up with the series may be focused on Ohio State and Michigan, but walk around Beaver Stadium this Saturday, and it’s easy to see an older fan base that misses the Pitt series.

Survey the former players — from both schools — and they’ll tell you this was the game they always had circled.

Without Pitt, Penn State has no natural rival. You can’t say Ohio State is a rival when Ohio State’s rival is, as Urban Meyer often calls it, “the school up north.”

I would also submit that though Pitt beat the nation’s No. 2 team last year and eventual national champion in Clemson, given a choice, Panther fans enjoyed beating Penn State a whole lot more.

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com.

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