So far this week, I’ve spent my time really going after the Pitt Panther football program in preparation for this Saturday’s Pitt-Penn State matchup in Beaver Stadium. Since writing and releasing my first two blogs on the subject, my TFTB colleagues have come after me saying, “Wow Smalls, does Pitt really have that much real estate in Penn State’s head?”. The easy answer is no, Penn State fans really could not give less of a f**k about Pitt outside of the week leading up to the game. However, I think it’s pretty clear that I do in fact care about this game very, very much. I’d be lying to you and myself if I said I didn’t. Because of this, I want to step away from the trash talk for a day and talk about why this final in-state matchup actually takes up so much “real estate” in my head.
Growing Up in Pittsburgh as a Penn Stater
Look, I love Pittsburgh sports. Pirates, Steelers, Penguins, hell, I’ll cheer for the damn Riverhounds if it ever comes around to it. I’ve been Pittsburgh to the core when it comes to sports and that won’t ever change, no matter where I end up in life. However, since my parents are Nittany Lion alumni, I never really had any shot of becoming a real University of Pittsburgh sports fan. I had it ingrained in me from an early age. There are pictures of me watching a Penn State game in my Penn State onesie holding a Penn State football at age 4. I never had a shot.
However, being a PSU fan in Southwestern PA meant I had zero allies when it came to college sports. The football rivalry had just recently come to an end in 2000 in a game where the Nittany Lions lost. I heard it from ALL of my childhood friends when it came to sports. It was unpopular to be a Penn State fan where I was. I stayed strong though, and continued to watch Penn State football every single Saturday.
Once hitting high school, I was still one of the few diehard Penn Staters in my hometown. That was fine though, I got to enjoy the years of Michael Robinson, Sean Lee, Paul Posluszny, Tamba Hali, and Tony Hunt. It was all good, and for the most part, Penn State was still the better football program up to that point.
And then the 2011 scandal hit.
Talk about a tough look for a young Nittany Lion fan. The onslaught was brutal, as it should’ve been. That was probably the worst and most heartbreaking collegiate sports scandals of all time, with really only the recent Michigan State case being comparable. The Pitt football fans around me jumped on it, which is to be expected, and I never heard the end of it till I graduated. I stayed the course though, and eventually was accepted into Penn State-University Park, my dream school and where I’d planned on attending since age 4.
When the series came back in 2016, I was ecstatic. Beyond excited. Finally a chance to talk s**t to all these Pitt scumbags that I grew up with/became students. I’d waited YEARS for this, since I hadn’t gotten the chance to spit that trash talk. It was finally time.
While we went on to win the next two meetings by a combined score of 84-20, all those years of enduring trash talk just to finally lose in the opening game of the 4-game series stayed with me.
Penn State Needs a Rival
Even Washington-Washington State.
It has to be so fun to be involved in these rivalries. Those historical matchups that stir fanbases into a frenzy and cause fist fights at the local bars. I love hearing the trash talk. I think it’s one of the best and most entertaining thing about college sports. And you know what sucks? Penn State doesn’t REALLY have that with anyone anymore.
Penn State-Pitt used to be the in-state game that had national title implications. After Penn State joined the Big Ten in the 90’s, however, the rivalry kind of died down. The Keystone rivalry basically became solely about recruiting territories instead of what was on the field. In the rivalries listed above, it’s both recruiting and the play on the field that fueled the passion. Not so much once the rivalry ended.
If I had it my way, Penn State’s “official” rival would be Ohio State. The fact that they’re in the same division, share borders, and recruit the same players just add to the pure entertainment on the field. Actually, Penn State has the best winning percentage against Ohio State since 2000 (outside of Purdue, which is kinda weird). However, Ohio State-Michigan has been a much bigger deal for a much longer time, despite Penn State having a much better track record. So no, Ohio State isn’t really our rival. They’ve been too good against us and we’re not Michigan.
There were a few years where they tried to make Michigan State the main rival of Penn State by scheduling the matchup on the last weekend of Big Ten play every year. While there have been some great games, it doesn’t exactly have the heat of a real rivalry.
There was a time where I thought our rival was going to be Maryland, especially because of the handshake in the 2014 matchup:
But nope, even that doesn’t feel right. Although I’m definitely scared of Maryland after seeing their first two games this year, I wouldn’t say it’s a real rivalry just yet. It has nothing to do with wins and losses, more just the feeling you get when you watch the teams play. It’s kinda hard to describe.
For this reason, I ABSOLUTELY think they need to renew the Penn State-Pitt rivalry. I don’t care about records or how “elite” each program is. They recruit the same kids, they’re located within 3 hours of each other, and there’s tons of history to go along with it. Florida and Florida State happens every year, despite the schools being in different conferences. I honestly believe an actual continuous rivalry would be the best for both programs. The rest of the Penn State fanbase might not think that, but I certainly do, no matter how “lopsided” the series is or what each team’s record is. College football would be better for it.
While there was definitely less trash talk and less “hate” in today’s post, I wanted to clear things up on why I care about Saturday’s game as much as I do. I’m probably going to be the only one in State College for the game thinking this way, but it goes beyond football.
Plus, how does Marcus Allen’s 2017 safety not make you wanna extend this rivalry?
INJECT THIS HIT INTO MY VEINS. It’s what hometown rivalries are all about.
Thanks for reading. Eat Shitt Pitt.