Delaware game is personal for Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi
Every game matters to Pat Narduzzi, but Saturday’s game against Delaware at Heinz Field will be special for many reasons.
This one he wants to win for his dad.
“I tell our kids all the time, ‘These games have got to be personal,’ ” Narduzzi said Monday at his weekly news conference. “It’s personal for me.”
To understand what playing Delaware means to Pitt’s coach, turn back the calendar 40 years when Narduzzi was a 13-year-old ballboy for his father, Bill, the Youngstown State coach at the time.
“He was always there with his dad, wanting to be a part of it,” said Keith Snoddy, who was YSU’s quarterback in 1979. “He was our little brother. We kind of looked out for him. Pat was just fun to be around, always there helping out any way he could.
“Part of the time he should have been in school, but he was with us most of the time.”
Said Terry Dittmer, the team’s nose tackle: “I remember his dad saying, ‘Patrick, (darn it),’ when he would get in the way. Nice kid, great family.”
It was not just any team Bill Narduzzi assembled that season. In fact, Snoddy, Dittmer and many of their teammates are returning Saturday for the Robert Morris game and a 40th reunion celebration.
The Penguins lost only two games in 1979 — both to Delaware and both after YSU squandered a big lead. The last one hurt the most. It was for the NCAA Division II national championship.
“I’ll never forget 1979,” Narduzzi said. “I’ll never forget getting beat in Austintown Fitch Stadium or I’ll never forget getting beat in the national championship game down in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“Youngstown (was) expected to win a championship. We didn’t get it done because of Delaware. I can see that field. I can see the locker room after the game. It’s personal.”
To Dittmer, the resemblance between Narduzzi and his dad — both in physical appearance and demeanor — is striking.
“The first time I saw him on TV, he was with Michigan State,” Dittmer said. “I about died. Just the resemblance of his dad threw me for a loop. He looks just like his dad, square jaw and kind of a scowl, but not really a scowl. A look of determination, not really mean. He could get very, very upset, very high strung. I think Pat is the same way.”
After Dittmer saw Narduzzi on TV, he got on the Michigan State website and sent him an email.
“He responded just like that,” Dittmer said. “Like it was old home week.”
Dittmer said he liked playing for Bill Narduzzi.
“I want to say he wasn’t real nasty or real hard-handed,” he said. “He just wanted you to do what you’re supposed to do when you’re supposed to do it. That was one of his mottos.”
Dittmer said Bill Narduzzi — or “Duzzer” as he was known to many of the players — helped make football important again to the people of Youngstown. Similarly, Narduzzi is trying to make Pitt’s program a consistent force in the ACC after several mediocre years.
“He really lit the fire,” Dittmer said of his coach. “It was kind of stagnant. When we got the new stadium (Stambaugh Stadium), it was all Duzzer’s doing. He was very important to that football history.”
Unfortunately, the telling of YSU football history would be incomplete without prominent mention of the two losses to Delaware.
In the first at Youngstown, Delaware recovered from a 31-7 deficit to score 44 second-half points and win 51-45 on a touchdown with 24 seconds remaining.
In the championship game in Albuquerque, N.M., YSU went ahead, 21-7, in the second quarter. Quarterback Scott Brunner, who later played in the NFL, led Delaware to a 38-21 victory.
When he was told Narduzzi plans to make Saturday’s game with Delaware personal, Dittmer offered a hearty endorsement.
“Good for him,” he said. “I hope he does.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .