Pitt, Penn State Ready to Turn Out the Lights on a Rivalry

A historic series that’s lost its steam is seemingly poised to run its course. That’s bad for Pitt, bad for Penn State, bad for Pennsylvania and bad for college football.

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As Pitt and Penn State brace for their 100th meeting on Saturday, the anticipation has been ambushed, to a significant extent, by a just-as-perceptible sense of resignation, at least among those who long for the continuation of a rivalry that will apparently cease to be.

Hey, we should all be lucky enough to live to be 100, right?

Yet that isn’t going to make the absence of any scheduled games between Pitt and Penn State beyond Saturday’s noon kickoff at Beaver Stadium any easier to accept.

Most of those who are adamant about Pitt and Penn State continuing to play one another annually are on the Pitt side of the rivalry.

Most, but not all; there are also Nittany Lions who’ve seen that light.

“I know the arguments and understand the economics,” former Penn State quarterback and college football color analyst Todd Blackledge, a Canton, Ohio native, tweeted this week. “But if it works for UGA-GA TECH, FLA-FSU, and CLEMSON-S CAROLINA, then I believe PITT & PENN STATE and TEXAS & TEXAS A&M can figure it out. Those unique intrastate games are great for the state and for all of college football.”

Penn State head coach James Franklin gave lip service this week to the rivalry somehow continuing.

“We’re open to having discussions,” Franklin stated.

“I think we’ve got to be creative in the way we look at it,” Franklin maintained.

And then there was this:

“I could see us possibly doing a neutral site game with them.”

A neutral site game?

Where, in Altoona?

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The insincerity almost dripped off the press conference transcript.

Franklin isn’t interested in continuing this rivalry, just as Penn State hasn’t been for a long time.

That story hasn’t changed.

Franklin emphasized the disparity in conference games (Penn State plays nine in the Big Ten and Pitt plays eight in the ACC) as a roadblock in both directions along the road from Happy Valley to the North Shore.

But he also spoke of the rivalry as more of a blast from the past than a passion helping to drive both programs.

“You’ve got to remember, most of our players before the last four years had never even seen it,” Franklin said.

It was as if Franklin was trying to justify pulling the plug on a relative or putting down Old Yeller.

Pitt and Penn State didn’t play from 2001 through 2015 prior to the temporary four-year resumption that ends on Saturday.

That may explain today’s players relative unfamiliarity with the two schools’ shared tradition.

In the event anyone has forgotten, here’s a refresher course in what once was:

  • 1973: No. 6 Penn State 35, No. 20 Pitt 13.
  • 1974: No. 10 Penn State 31, No. 18 Pitt 10.
  • 1975: No.10 Penn State 7, No. 17 Pitt 6.
  • 1976: No. 1 Pitt 24, No. 16 Penn State 7.
  • 1977: No. 9 Penn State 15, No.10 Pitt 13.
  • 1978: No. 1 Penn State 17, No.15 Pitt 10.
  • 1979: No. 11 Pitt 29, No. 19 Penn State 14.
  • 1980: No. 4 Pitt 14, No. 5 Penn State 9.
  • 1981: No. 11 Penn State 48, No. 1 Pitt 14.
  • 1982: No. 2 Penn State 19, No. 5 Pitt 10.

That’s a 10-year stretch in which both teams were ranked in the Top 20 10 years out of 10, one team was ranked in the Top 10 12 times, both teams were ranked in the Top 5 two times, and one team was No. 1 in the nation on three occasions

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That 10-year stretch alone makes the rivalry worth saving.

That alone makes the rivalry worth saving.

Neither program is at present what it was back in the day.

But they’ll both be forever linked by history as well as geography.

That makes this a game, as Blackledge acknowledged, for college football as well as the Commonwealth.

And Saturday a day to lament as well as to remember when.

Categories: Mike Prisuta’s Sports Section