Former Pitt, PSU players hope for renewal of rivalry
Silhouetted against a cold, gray June sky, Pitt and Penn State football players and coaches competed again Tuesday.
With golf clubs in their hands, they played for charity at the Chestnut Ridge Inn Golf Resort.
And they recalled when the two schools met annually on a football field, which hasn't happened since 2000, a 12-0 Pitt win that may be the final installment of the rivalry.
"It needs to be renewed. I can't overemphasize that fact," said Tony Dorsett, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1976 and played on Pitt's national championship team that year, the only season of his four that Pitt beat Penn State. "The powers that be, if they want it to be, they can make it happen."
Pitt and Penn State played football annually from 1935-1992, resumed in 1997 through 2000, and have been eyeing each other from afar since.
As they waited for the afternoon golf round to begin yesterday, and with a continuous loop of Penn State and Pitt music playing over the sound system in the dining area, players and coaches who have seen the football rivalry from both sides agreed that its loss is a significant one. They also agreed that the recent attempt of a state senator to lobby both schools for a resumption is a mistake.
"We don't need getting government and politics involved; there is enough of that involved in sports already," said Dick Hoak, who lettered at Penn State from 1958 through 1960 and went on to play and coach for the Steelers. "That's up to the two schools to work out. Maybe it will happen, maybe it won't.
"It's tough because they're each in a different conference, and they have to play so many home games. It's going to be tough to get them back together."
Jackie Sherrill, who coached Pitt to wins in the rivalry in 1979 and 1980, also is no fan of political pressure to resurrect the rivalry.
"I think the reality of it is the president of Penn State, the chancellor of Pitt, the two ADs, they need to sit there and say 'OK, we're going to play, let's work out the logistics and work out the dollar figure and let's go.' "
Sherrill once had a fierce rivalry with Joe Paterno, but the two have become close and Sherrill stayed at Paterno's home a few seasons back. But Sherrill said he never brought up the aborted rivalry, which some believe Paterno has personally torpedoed.
"He wouldn't answer me any way," Sherrill said. "I'm very honest. What he's going to say is, 'It's not my job, it's the AD's job. Go talk to him.'"
The schools have disagreed in the past over whether a renewal should be on the basis of equal numbers of home games, or whether Penn State should get extra consideration because of a larger stadium. Also, the commitment of eight Big Ten conference games, which some member schools want increased to nine or 10 games, limits the number of non-conference slots for Penn State.
In the heyday of the rivalry, the Pitt-Penn State game was the regular-season finale.
That, according to former Penn State player and current defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, added to the significance. That wouldn't be possible now.
As time passes, the impetus to renew the rivalry wanes.
"I grew up with the series, so I understand it," Bradley said. "I don't know how much some of the younger fans understand the rivalry."
Penn State's fans tend to think of Ohio State and Michigan as greater rivals since the move to the Big Ten.
Former Penn State linebacker Shane Conlan and Sherrill talked of the rivalry during their morning round.
"I think we'd all like to see it come back, but obviously they're not listening to us," Conlan said.
Jack Ham, the Penn State and Steelers linebacker great, remains hopeful a deal can be reached to renew the rivalry.
"It's a natural thing," he said, "and it should be brought back."
Pitt-Penn State football rivalryFirst game: Nov. 6, 1893, Penn State 32, Pitt 0
Last game: Sept. 16, 2000, Pitt 12, Penn State 0
All-time series record: Penn State, 50-42-4