You Stay Classy, Pitt Fans
This season’s marketing slogan for Pitt football is “My City. My Panthers.” Someone must have forgot to tell the boo birds at Heinz Field this past weekend to have a little parochial pride. The fans weren’t booing the team, who routed The Sisters of the Poor, I mean Youngstown State 38-3 in the season opener. Large pockets of haters in the 48,000-strong crowd pointed their verbal barbs at one man – quarterback Bill Stull. Nearly every time Stull sauntered out onto the field, he was accompanied by the standard Kordellian chorus of disapproval that all struggling Pittsburgh quarterbacks have come to know even in their dreams. But particularly sloshed fans also filled in the silences with one-liners that were aggressively vile and deeply personal. And they certainly can’t be replicated here. What’s more concerning is that the boos came raining down in the midst of a solid game by Stull’s standards – 11-for-16 for 123 yards and two, count ’em two touchdowns. That’s what the experts call game management.
Remember me? Not a game manager. Not even a game middle manager. Come on, Pitt fans. This is your quarterback. Stull is not some prep school transplant from California, he’s a local boy. Like Dan Marino, the Seton La-Salle grad was born in Pittsburgh and conquered the fields of the WPIAL before wearing the blue and gold. Unfortunately, Stull’s career has been marked by injuries and far from reminiscent of Dan the Man’s tenure in Oakland. Stull’s meltdown in last year’s 3-0 Sun Bowl loss to Oregon State was preposterously epic. His 7-for-24, 52-yard, one interception performance was ripe for a YouTube montage, complete with a medley of cartoon sound effects – Zoinks! Whoop! Clonk! After Stull stepped on that garden rake, Pitt fans tried to throw him under a PAT bus, but it was late, as usual. So instead they took to the message boards and talk radio airwaves to spew their hack-tooey tirades against the quarterback.
It’s easier to catch the H1N1 than to catch the 61A out of Oakland Often, the voices on the other end of the line didn’t offer any gravitas – instead opting to fan the flames. Mark Madden branded Stull – who sports studded earrings and a highly questionable, non-ironic, non-playoff beard – “the Mt. Lebanon gangster,” among other things, and insinuated that his teammates are tired of his prima donna attitude. In a recent column, Madden suggested that Stull is fair game for the harsh criticism because he is “providing a service in exchange for a valuable commodity, a college education.” Soft argument from the purported "super genius." Yes, Stull is enjoying a tuition-less education because of his athletic prowess, but nothing in this world is really free. College football is a full-time job. D-1 football players sacrifice an average of 40 hours or more per week for their sport. While most college students nurse weekday hangovers with hazy Maury Povich marathons, Stull is putting in extra work. After hours of practice, weight room reps, film study, flights, and (wait for it) media engagements, Stull still has to sit down in the classroom next to some of his harshest critics. Think the jeers fade after he leaves Heinz Field? He has to hear it in the halls, in the cafeteria, at parties. "If you think the critics are tough on me, you should see how I am on myself," Stull said. "You can’t say anything worse than I say to myself.” Hear that, haters? Stull knows that he has underperformed. He doesn’t need fellow students, alumni and talk show hosts sniping at him after every game. Welcome to the new age of cathartic self-loathing. Instead of rooting for the local kid, you can almost hear the undercurrent of “Why wasn’t it me (or my kid)?” in every pot shot. Boo birds have been around since they figured out how to lace up pigskin, but the mud being slung at Stull’s character and the verbal insults hurled toward his family members –who sit in the stands at every game – is a new kind of dirty. It may be Your City. Your Panthers. But that ain’t your momma’, so please shut your mouth and enjoy the game.