Lest we think the writer of this blog is all about blown game losses and the not-so-positive issues Pitt football has been through, let’s try to understand what his fan level is right now and how it came about.
Stay with me here – I have a point or two to make…
First off, no one sits down at a keyboard for 2-4 hours a day and writes long articles (sometime 3,000 words) for others to read and discuss unless they really cared about the subject matter. That just doesn’t happen especially when the writer gets no payment of any kind. So, with that knowledge can we just drop the inferences that somehow I’m not a ‘real‘ Pitt football fan?
Yes, I get the various emails and Facebook messages telling me that I’m not good for the Pitt football program. To that I say “So what?“and, more to the point, “Who are you to judge”?
The truth is The Pitt Blather and the new The Pitt POV blogs are two of the best things that has happened to Pitt football because we keep the issues, good and bad, in front of the people who Pitt football is supposed to be all about – the students, alumni and fans.
Just ask Pitt itself. Believe me, they love these blogs, all of them and not just the two I mentioned… throw all the blogs in that center on Pitt football. They love them because we do the hard work that the university can’t, or in some cases won’t, do. That isn’t a criticism of Pitt because you can’t reasonably expect their Athletic Media Department to seed the media, in all its current forms, with anything that is less than flattering about the University and its athletic department.
That ain’t going to happen nor should it. But what they do instead, and this is highly professional and just plain smart, is open up as much access for established media outlets as they can (hard to believe but blogs fall under that label) … and then provide info and as-truthful-as-possible answers to the tough questions.
A case in point; when I started writing for The Pitt Blather six years ago, very early on I got a call from the head of the Pitt Media Dept., Mr. E. J. Borghetti, offering me full media credentials so that I could have the same resources available to me as the more mainstream media outlets had.
I was a bit surprised because 1) I had just started writing full articles about Pitt football and 2) I was pretty critical of some things that were going on in the football program at the time and wasn’t shy about saying so in public.
But that is where E.J. said a smart and honest thing – basically it was we want you to have as much information as possible so that your articles have as much truth in them as they can. To that I said “Thanks, but I can’t do it unless there is zero conditions put on the offer – I won’t change anything on your behalf that I feel I need to say .”
That was exactly what happened and has been in effect to this day. I have never gotten any pressure from anyone – save a few readers – to modify what I write. That said, if I have my facts wrong I’ll hear from others, mostly commenters, but sometimes from the source also and I’ll decide to modify what I say or not.
So – within that historical framework let me explain WHY I do what I do. In its most simple terms it is because I am a Pitt fan. I’m a fan of the football team; a fan of the university itself (first and above all) and I’m a fan of some of the people associated with those two things.
As an older man I may have a different take on what I see in the Pitt football program than some others do. We are the sum of the parts of our lives that make us who we are and that is certainly true in my case. I look through eyes with certain filters others may not – from 33 years of active duty in the military; from being a parent, husband and a minority in my own family.
Don’t laugh at that last bit, I am that and I have learned and come to understand things way beyond what I would have if I had never married an Hawai’ian girl 35 years ago. So what I see and feel isn’t what others do.
But as far as football goes this is what molded me…
I was a student at Pitt from 1974-1977 and attended, while actually staying stayed sober, every single football home game of that great rebuilding period. That was as an 18-22 year old main campus student. A filter that most of us have I think.
However, I had already been going to every single home game from birth and being dragged to old Pitt Stadium every fall Saturday since 1955. My whole extended family went to, graduated from and worked at Pitt or in Pitt-related professions, some rather high level. So we all lived and breathed this stuff… and up until the mid-70s those years were basically, to put it mildly, “down years” for Pitt football.
I’m not talking about everyone just going to the game on Saturday and waving a pennant around. We had regular fall Friday night cocktail parties before the home games with the Pitt brass in our living room getting tight and discussing the next day’s game or how our players were doing on and off the field. Interspersed with that was serious conversation about subject’s like the Graduate Schools’ budgets, how to attract more international students to Oakland and other shop talk about the university’s dealings.
But for us kids (I was the youngest of five brothers and cousins) it was all about Saturday afternoons and sitting in the end zone while our parents were in their upper 50 yards line seats or in the Chancellor’s box.
I say ‘sitting’ but the truth is that back then most games were pretty much over for the Pitt team by the start of the halftime festivities so we ran around under the stadium bowl and got into trouble with the same security guards week after week, year after year.
Thus my young life was truly composed of 360° of the University of Pittsburgh. It was all there all the time and our family’s lives revolved around it.
As to the quality of the football itself, I spent Saturday afternoons either watching Pitt lose or listening on the radio as Pitt lost games. From the time I could really grasp what was happening out on the field – let’s say at around nine years old – I experienced nothing but Pitt’s losing seasons – nine of them – until Dorsett came in 1973. Those nine years Pitt averaged 2.4 wins per season.
But you know what? We were proud of the team. Back then you went to the games because it was something you did to support the university you loved and to have good times with others who felt the same way.
Wins didn’t matter so much as the fact that the kids gave everything they had and played a fair and honest game. Yeah, it was the “Rah-Rah, Hail to Pitt!” era and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
I think that, save for a few fans I know, there is something lacking in how the football program and the University are viewed today. We were less image conscious then, less concerned about what other school’s fans or what sportswriters (and now TV outlets) might have thought about us.
It just didn’t matter in the long run because we knew there was a clear and real defining line between the academic side of Pitt and the athletic side. The football team was not the end all be all of the school itself.
There were no silly “Next level” mantras being thrown out every time something embarrassing happened. We didn’t hear platitudes like “Sports are the front porch of the university.” because it wasn’t true then and friends, hate to say it, it ain’t true now. The front porch of the University is and always will be Pitt’s academic accomplishments and the impact it has on the community themselves. Anyone telling you anything different is selling you an athletic bill of goods.
When we started getting away from that simplicity we started having those very real athletic-driven problems that tarnished our national and international reputations. Forget about just losing games, we were losing a sterling stature that we had held for decades in areas that actually mattered.
But then was also a time where you didn’t have to outspend other schools to win games and have your students, staff and alumni enjoy the whole college football experience.
Instead of throwing money at something that had little to do with the actual mission of the university itself, Pitt tried to root out the better local high school players and then actually coach them to play football better than the other schools did.
The facilities didn’t have to have gold-plated toilets or a clubhouse game room where the student/athletes could unwind from a tough game.
Was it better than in those days than it is now?
Well, we had better football teams in the olden days, that’s for sure. Those nine national championships were won when we were Independent and not affiliated with any of the conferences. We weren’t grovelling around in the Conference mud pits just to ensure another school didn’t get more money than we did year to year. Heavens forbid if we got a million dollars less than WVU – they might win more games than we do!! Honestly, I’d cry if it wasn’t so damned stupid.
I think it was, at the very least, more of an atmosphere that made it fun to be a Pitt fan. For people other than me and my family maybe it was different. Maybe other families or fans felt that unless Pitt bettered some other school while playing a game it was a lesser institution than the team that won. And you know that we have fans that feel that way now.
So in some ways it sure was better – simpler and I think a lot more enjoyable. In other aspects I like the way it is now. And maybe that’s because I have been able to keep a certain personal perspective about Pitt football intact.
When I tend to lose that perspective is if I’m very emotionally invested in something. Sometimes that happens with my outlook on Pitt football. That’s when I’ll look at the end of season’s won/loss column instead of looking at the whole shebang when trying to figure out if I am ‘happy’ about what happened or not.
I’ve written before that my favorite year of Pitt football lately has been the 2007 season. We ended up with a losing 5-8 season, but so what? I had a chance to watch kids come out of nowhere and bust their asses trying to win against hard odds. I watched key players go down with injury and others, some who had only a few weeks of practice with other college players, get thrown in and win some ball games.
And I watched a 28 point underdog Pitt team kick the crap out of a arch-rival school and manhandle them to a loss to keep them from playing in a national championship game.
Only five wins? Who cares! What I saw happen that season is what makes sports played by dedicated young men great. They went out week after week and did the very best they could.
Other Pitt fans hated that year because we lost eight games. We didn’t win more than we lost so it had to suck, right? There, my friends, is where we differ.
So contrary to what others think is my cynical and jaded attitude toward Pitt football I’ll say I’m the opposite. I find joy in small things. I like the kids who not only score TDs but graduate on time. I like the players whose names we don’t recognize from Saturdays spending time with others less fortunate than they are. I like to open the paper on Monday morning and not see a roll call of Pitt players who have been arrested over the weekend.
James Conner’s story is a heart-wrenching one with a huge silver lining to it. But I want to see that undergraduate degree diploma in his hand while his Mother hugs him and cries for the hard work he did in the classroom – not just on the football field or in the doctor’s office.
I guess you’ll have to excuse my lack of unbridled enthusiasm toward the program nowadays because I have zero reason, and a hell of a lot more history of Pitt football to draw on than most fans, to think it will every simplify itself back to pure fun.
Back to when the players weren’t ‘special’, didn’t have excuses for their incredibly poor behavior made by those who were supposed to be leading them, or be given outrageous amounts of money to declare for the NFL draft and thus slam the brakes on their education.
I don’t know how many times in my professional career I have counseled young men and women that quick money up front means nothing to your happiness and well-being in those longer, and less exciting, periods of your life.
Is anyone at Pitt sitting these talented NFL-bound players down and really explaining how the world works when they step outside the sports cocoon? Or are we just assuming these young men have their minds made up and no amount of concern can sway them?
So many times I have read or heard Pitt fans state that every player on the roster is only there to try to get into the NFL… or that is the dream of their parents and nothing we do can shed light on the actual odds of that happening for the young man.
I call bullshit on that. If we aren’t putting as much effort and energy in preparing these student/athletes to live full, complete, and long lives after their time at Pitt as we are getting them ready for professional ball then shame on US and shame on the University.
I don’t mean the token support system that is there for appearances either – I mean really grabbing these young men and showing them the real and dirty facts of life… and how they can make theirs so much better by doing the right things now.
But here’s the bottom line with me as a Pitt fan today. I will get very excited and really optimistic about Pitt football when it gives me this one simple thing:
I want a decent string of winning seasons that doesn’t have negative drama associated with them and doesn’t result in the firing for cause of head coaches.
That’s it – it doesn’t have to be a national championship although I’d love that. Throw a conference championship or two in there also. But hell, it doesn’t even have to be 11 or 12 wins. I’ll take 8, 9, or 10 wins as long as there are no asterisks attached to the record that says the head coach was fired because he (take your pick here):
Slept with a student cheerleader; got her pregnant then paid hush money; slept with a boosters wife; let his agent publicly insult the university of Pittsburgh on a national stage; let the animals run the zoo; watched while his players committed multiple violent acts against others way smaller than they were including beating girls and drunken hit and run driving.
When Pitt can step away from all that crap and still win more than they lose I’ll be happy as a clam. Do we have to throw untold millions of dollars toward salaries and always newer and better facilities that are used for basically one thing to get that?
I have to believe it isn’t so or what is the use? But maybe I’m wrong and we do. Then at least can we take all of it seriously enough to believe that an extra win or two at the end of the season isn’t worth all the drama and the crap we went though not too long ago in trying to get just that?
Guess what? I think Pat Narduzzi is just the guy to do it for us. I think he’s got the backbone to look at things as important, if not more sometimes, than just wins. I trust him to see these young men as his own and do right by them and not put their needs aside for a better record on the field because… he can do both equally well. It has been done before.
But in my opinion that all hinges on the characters of the Chancellor and the Athletic Director. If they aren’t 100% committed to doing the right thing in all aspects of athletics at Pitt then it won’t happen.
If I am being true to my beliefs and feelings about the university I grew up with and still love today then I have to think that we can still keep high(er) standards and not sacrifice the joy and fun that should be associated with college sports and the good times for the fans who follow them.
When Pitt fails to do that – especially if and when they had the choice to take the high road – then I’ll keep being a ‘bad fan’ and try to point things out what could and should have been done better.
But cheer leading isn’t something I do well… if at all.