Schools Divided Creates a State United

By Nico Regoli
Editor-in-Chief

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Penn State New Kensington graduate, Andrew Lee, tailgating in downtown Pittsburgh before the big game.  (Photo taken by Nico Regoli.)

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – On September 10, 2016, Heinz Field hosted the first football game between Penn State University and the University of Pittsburgh in almost exactly 16 years, reigniting one of the greatest rivalries in college sports history.

The gridiron grudge between the Nittany Lions and Pitt Panthers dates all the way back to November 6, 1893, in which Penn State won a 32-0 shutout on home soil in the first meeting between the two universities. The dueling schools would battle 95 more times over the next 107 years, with Pitt winning Game 96 via a home turf shutout (12-0) of their own on September 16, 2000.

Unfortunately, after Game 96, Penn State and Pitt were placed in different divisions. This prevented them from playing one another again, poetically halting their rivalry the same way it began: with a shutout victory by the home team.

Thankfully, every drought eventually ends in rain, and after 16 years, destiny put Penn State and Pitt back on the same field for what was a truly special day.

Multigenerational tailgaters, both with and without tickets, from various colleges in the state flooded the streets of downtown Pittsburgh, partying the morning away in the lead up to kickoff. Among the tailgaters without tickets were 2016 Main Campus graduate and Lower Burrell native, Sam Barrett, and Digital Media Editor of Penn State Main’s newspaper, Gabby Santoliquito.

Barrett, who has ties to both schools and their residing areas, felt an internal conflict leading into the game.

“I’m from Pittsburgh, so I’m like kind of torn on it,” Barrett explained. “I’m a Pitt basketball fan, but I went to Penn State. So, I’m a Penn State football fan.”

Barrett also stated that he liked how even the split was between attending Pitt and Penn State fans, and believes that the two schools should play each other, “every year, forever.”

Santoliquito on the other hand, while having had Penn State season tickets for three years straight, was a bit green in her knowledge of the competitive history between the two universities.

“I didn’t know that it was a huge rivalry until five years ago,” stated Santoliquito. “I just wanted to see what the environment would be like.”

Also roaming the tailgates was 2014 Penn State New Kensington graduate, Andrew Lee. Lee originally had a ticket to the game, but sold it, feeling that Heinz Field was just “too hot.” He came to experience the fun that comes with the spirit of competition.

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Field credentials of Heinz Field boom mic operator, John Regoli.  (Photo taken by Nico Regoli.)

“It (the rivalry) is not a big deal to me,” Lee stated. “I like to come out because there’s a crap ton of Penn State students here, and a lot of Pitt students. So you might as well have fun while you’re out here.”

While Barrett, Santoliquito, and Lee likely headed to a bar to watch the game, just as other tailgaters had presumably done, Heinz Field was filled to the brim with passionate football fans, spouting off a ravenous thirst for competition of incomparable levels.

Among those fans were community college graduate and Pitt supporter, Liz Newill, and Clarion graduate supporting Penn State, Charlie Chericho.

For Newill, this was only the second college football game that she had ever attended. Before the game, she mentioned that she didn’t really care much about the rivalry, and described the event as “just a fun football game to come to.”

Chericho on the other hand has had the honor of witnessing firsthand one of the Nittany Lions’ finest moments.

“The last Penn State game I went to was the ’86 Fiesta Bowl, where Penn State beat Miami for the National Championship,” said Chericho.

Chericho saw the importance of the rivalry, stating its return “brings back bragging rights to the state.” He was right, because the attending crowd of 69,983 broke the record for the largest attended Pittsburgh sporting event in history. However, not only did the game bring bragging rights back to the state, but it also brought the state’s people together, including families.

Sister-in-laws, Carol Abel and Joan Westphal, and their daughters, Caitlin Abel and Natalie Westphal stood at opposite sides of the college battlefield that day. The Westphals represented Penn State and the Abels represented Pitt. However, their alma mater pride united them for a game of Giant Jenga at a tailgate party next to the Three Rivers Casino.

“The backyard brawl should not be WVU and Pitt, the backyard brawl should be Pitt and Penn State,” exclaimed Natalie.

The events of the game validate Natalie Westphal’s proclamation. After a dominating first half by Pitt, Penn State greatly narrowed the gap in the second half.  The final score came down to a failed, almost literally last minute touchdown pass by Penn State, which Pitt intercepted, closing out the game 42-39 in Pitt’s favor.

If the remaining three games scheduled are anything like September 10, 2016, then Pennsylvania football fans are in for a great next three years.

*Editor’s Note: This article is from our September 2016 edition of The Nittany Pride.  My apologies for not publishing this story online sooner.

*Update on the 2016 Penn State Nittany Lions: As of October 31, 2016, the Nittany Lions football team has an official win-loss record of 6-2 this season, winning five of their last six games, including a gigantic upset win over the Number 2-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes on October 22, 2016.

*Update on the 2016 Pitt Panthers: As of October 31, 2016, the Pitt Panthers football team has an official win-loss record of 5-3 this season, going 3-3 in their last six games, losing their most recent game to the Number 25-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies on October 27, 2016. 

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