The Pitt Panthers narrowly defeated the West Virginia Mountaineers, 38-31, last Thursday evening at Acrisure Stadium.
It was the return of the Backyard Brawl after an 11-year hiatus due to things involving billions of dollars and conference realignment. Was the Pitt/WVU rivalry good enough to resume after 11 years on ice?
Glad you asked, because 70,622 fans descended upon Acrisure Stadium to take in the festivities, marking the largest crowd in the history of the football venue once named Heinz Field.
The atmosphere was electric. In fact, I’d go so far as to call it the most electrifying night of football in the history of Pittsburgh.
You might feel like saying something like, “Oh, come on! What about the Steelers' playoff game against (insert game, team, year and home venue here)!” Maybe you’re right, but it’s been a long time since a Steelers home game has moved me like the Pitt/WVU extravaganza did last week. Therefore, it’s hard to quantify the various levels of football electricity between now and the past.
I do know that the Steelers have moved me in the past, however.
But the past is the past, while the present is the present. Right now, the Pitt Panthers are the golden football team in Pittsburgh. They’re new. They’re fresh. They’re happening.
If you’re a Penn State fan—those damn pimples—you’re probably going to make fun of the Panthers’ notorious attendance problems at Heinz Field/Acrisure Stadium. Fine, I’ll give you that, but you have to admit it’s hard for a college football team to compete for attention and dollars in a pro football town.
Pitt did that last Thursday, though. Sure, the West Virginia fans helped a lot, but not as much as the Panthers fans who had been starving for a true winner for decades prior to the 2021 campaign; their 40-year drought of national irrelevance finally came to a close, thanks to a magical season by quarterback Kenny Pickett, who helped lead the program to an improbable ACC championship and a berth in a BCS bowl game.
Will the love Pitt is getting from its fans and alumni continue, or will things revert back to the usual, with folks only packing the stands to see a big ticket opponent?
I guess we’ll find out.
At least it’s fun to be a Panthers fan, now, though, no? I mean, I can’t get enough of all the highlights on Youtube. Heck, I spent part of my Sunday evening watching a condensed version of the Pitt/Georgia ‘82 Sugar Bowl classic.
When will the Steelers be fun to watch again? I ask this because attendance was kind of blah in 2021, and people began to notice. The air at old Heinz Field was a bit stale. True, the horrendous offense didn’t help to rile up the fans, but the staleness had been around for a while.
The Steelers jumped the shark a long time ago, at least the second Super Bowl era did. I believe we held onto the past for so long—chasing a seventh title with Ben Roethlisberger, the old gunslinger, leading the way—that we didn’t notice when so many other teams had passed the Steelers by.
The Steelers need to find that magic again. Of course, Pickett will likely help when he eventually becomes the starting quarterback. The team is young, overall, so hopefully, that will lead to a promising future.
Believe it or not, the fans can help make the excitement return by not turning everything into a crisis.
Did you know that Kedon Slovis, the Panthers' new quarterback via USC, said, “Bleep WVU!” at a rally days before last week’s Backyard Brawl? That actually happened. Do you know what the fallout was for this remark? Nothing. I don’t remember any Pitt fans criticizing Slovis for this remark. I don’t recall any talk show hosts calling Slovis out for a lack of maturity.
I’m not sure if West Virginia fans even heard Slovis, since they were likely too busy chanting, “Eat 'Spit,' Pitt!”
In other words, both fan bases embraced the vitriol. They reveled in it. They had fun with it.
Can you imagine if a Steelers player did something similar prior to a big game? Actually, you don’t have to imagine it; speaking of USC, JuJu Smith-Schuster, a former Trojan and Steelers receiver, drew criticism two years ago for saying in an interview prior to a wildcard showdown in Pittsburgh that “The Browns is the Browns.”
This wasn’t celebrated by Steelers fans. Instead, the remark made them cringe, and they worried that it would rile Cleveland up.
Did it rile the Browns up? I’m sure it did. Did it have anything to do with Cleveland’s 48-37 victory? I’m sure it did not.
This was months after Smith-Schuster caused a stir by TikTok dancing on opposing teams' logos before road games. "JuJu, please stop, bro," the fans pleaded. "Please, bruh, you're riling up the other team, bro."
These were many of the same people who once walked around wearing "Muck the Fets" t-shirts back in the 1990s.
What the heck happened to us?
The start of the Steelers’ 2022 regular season is only a few days away. How will they do? Where will they finish in the AFC?
Maybe the better question to ask is this: Will the Steelers excite and move their fans again in the not-so-distant future?
Bonus question: Will the fans embrace the excitement when and if they do?