Here is a Bio piece from Eric Wassel – MissingWlat to us.
My parents did not attend Pitt. In fact, neither attended college at all. Truth be told, I grew up rooting for the now-hated Dairy School to the East, as my uncle had played football there in the late 60s under Joe Paterno. My only tie to Pitt prior to my enrollment in 1988 was my sister, who had graduated from Pitt in 1985.
I had originally intended to attend Pitt-Johnstown to play baseball. Had I done so, the rest of this story would never have happened. So here’s how my kids became Pitt fans.
In the spring of 1991, during my Junior year at Pitt, I traveled with my roommates to Florida for Spring Break. I had a good friend from high school who was attending Palm Beach Atlantic College. Free room for the week, warm weather, fake ID. I was all set.
Being the frugal (i.e. poor) college student that I was, I booked the cheapest flight that I could find, so I was scheduled to fly home on a Monday rather than a Sunday. Missing one day of classes never hurt anyone, and I got to extend spring break by an extra day. Having time to kill on that Monday before an evening flight back to Pittsburgh, my roommates and I decided to attend a spring training baseball game in Palm Beach between the Expos and the Dodgers.
We arrived and moved towards our cheap seats in left field. As luck would have it, the guy sitting in the row behind us had a daughter who attended Pitt. One of us was wearing a Pitt shirt, so the gentleman struck up a brief conversation. He had put his daughter on a plane home the previous day, and pointed out that we were skipping class. Point taken. Anyway, real nice guy. Buys us all beers, and we talk a little bit about Pitt football. He had been a season ticket holder since 1982. Sat with his back against the press box on the 50 yard line in the last row of Section 19 of Pitt Stadium. (opposite side of the field from our buddy, Lastrow). He was a die-hard Pitt fan, and had attended numerous Pitt Bowl Games, including the 1982 Sugar Bowl.
“Look my daughter up when you get back on campus”, he said. “Thanks for the beers”, we said. Needless to say, none of us ever looked up his daughter after returning to campus. Over 12,000 undergrad and graduate school females were on the Oakland campus at the time, so there were plenty of other co-eds to choose from.
Fast forward approximately one year later, to the spring of 1992. I was on cruise control at Pitt. I had a light course load, was getting ready to graduate, and had been accepted to law school. I spent much of that time in that last semester at Pitt attending Pirates games with my buddies.
I also began spending a lot of time with my girlfriend, Missy, who I had met in early April at the Pirates home opener. We had a huge tailgate for the opener, mostly Pitt students. Originally Missy was interested in one of my friends, Todd, while she had a friend of hers who was interested in me. Things have a funny way of working out, and Missy and I started dating. A couple of rides around town (including a few late nights at Schenley Park) in my fancy red 1983 Ford EXP and I had her hooked!
My relationship with Missy begins to develop, and as these things happen, it becomes time to meet her parents. They were coming into town to visit Missy at Pitt, and we invited them to stop by a party that we were having at our apartment on North Dithridge Street.
Nice people her parents, especially her dad. A dentist from the town of Pittston, PA, he was one of the founders of the Northeastern Pa. Chapter of the Pitt Golden Panthers. A real Pitt guy. Season ticket holder since 1982. Attended a bunch of bowl games…. Oh, and one more thing: IT’S THE GUY WHO BOUGHT US BEERS AT THE SPRING TRAINING GAME IN FLORIDA!!!
The post script to this story is that I married his daughter, now my wife, Missy, four years later. We’ll be married 22 years next week. We have had season tickets since marrying in 1996. We make the trip across the state (Missy and I moved to Pittston in 1999) for games several times a year. My daughter was less than 6 months old when she attended her first game (Pitt-Penn State, 12-0). Ever since, my kids have been going to games. We’ve attended bowl games, most recently with our kids to the Pinstripe Bowl. Four years ago I attended a Pitt-Miami game in Florida with my father-in-law, only miles up the road from where I first him at that spring training game over 20 years earlier.
We have truly become a Pitt family. At age 73, my father-in-law has the same passion for Pitt football as he did over 25 years ago when I first met him.
My daughter is a high school Junior. She wants to study chemical engineering. She is way smarter than me. She has Pitt at the top of her list. Somehow a certain agricultural school in Central Pennsylvania never made the list at all. How did that happen?
HAIL TO PITT!!!
As an addendum to this story, I share my favorite games as a Pitt fan (1988-Present) I originally intended it to be a top 10 list, then expanded to 13 (in honor of Dan Marino). Ultimately I just could not omit a few, so here is the final result…
Before getting to football, I decided to throw four basketball games in here first. They are in no particular order. I was in attendance at each.
Pitt Basketball Memorable Games
December 20, 2007: Pitt beats Duke at Madison Square Garden on Levance Fields’ three pointer with six seconds left in overtime. Duke fans cheer when Mike Cook tears his ACL during game.
March 15, 2003: Pitt wins their first Big East Tournament Championship at MSG vs. UConn. 74-56.
February 15, 2004: Pitt beats UConn at the Pete when ranked #4 and UConn #5, Loudest sporting event I’ve ever attended. Tickets being scalped outside the Pete for over $500.
February 12, 2010: Pitt beats #5 West Virginia in triple overtime, 98-95. Pitt was down double digits late in regulation and then down 5 with 35 seconds left. Game on national TV started at 9 pm and was not over until after midnight.
December 12, 1998: The “Khalid El Amin Game”. Up 4 with 9 seconds left, Pitt gave up a three, threw away the inbounds pass, and then had El Amin thrust a knife in their chest with a shot in the lane with 2 seconds left. El Amin then celebrated by jumping atop the scorers table.
Pitt Football Memorable Games
Any game against Virginia Tech. For some reason, none of these individual games stand out (except last year’s loss), but I know that over the past 20 years, we’ve beaten VT at least 3 different times when they were ranked. Walt Harris in particular seemed to have their number.
Pitt v. Miami. November 24, 2017. 24-14 victory. We ruin Miami’s perfect season and National Championship hopes with a tremendous performance. What I most remember was how loud and engaged the fans were, even though there were only about 25,000 of us in attendance. That and the fact that the Miami QB, Rozier, was mostly incompetent all day which was a big factor in helping us to victory.
Pitt v. Syracuse. November 26, 2016. 76-61 victory. Highest scoring game in Division I (FBS) history. Highly entertaining. Tough to forget.
Pitt v. Penn State. September 16, 2000. 12-0 victory. I knew walking into Three Rivers that day that the winner would have bragging rights for years. Who knew it would be 16 years? I still can close my eyes and see Rod Rutherford running essentially untouched for the only TD of the game.
Pitt v. Temple. October 6, 1996. 53-52 victory. Most of the games in this era were forgettable. However, two weeks after we suffered a 72-0 beat down by Ohio State (do I recall John Cooper running a fake punt while up 35-0????), Matt Lytle rallies Panthers from down 3 TDs in the fourth quarter. Game played in a miserable rain. The rest of my family left in third quarter. My father-in-law, Sam and I gutted it out and were rewarded in the end. Temple coach Ron Dickerson announced his resignation after the game.
Pitt v. Notre Dame. November 3, 2012. 29-26 loss. Pitt loses in triple OT to Brian Kelly (can’t stand him) and the Irish on a Saturday night in South Bend. Phantom pass interference call late in the game on K’Wuan Williams was a critical call that turned tide, in game that we controlled for most of the contest. I recall that Notre Dame was ranked in the top 5 at the time.
Pitt v. Notre Dame. November 13, 1999. 37-27 victory. Last game in Pitt Stadium. Mostly memorable due to the pomp and circumstance, and the dignitaries in attendance. Game itself was nothing special against a mediocre Irish squad. Putting the “Spirit of Pitt Stadium” in a box was a bit corny. Thanks, Chancellor Nordenberg.
Pitt v. Notre Dame. October 31, 2008. 36-33 victory. 4 OT win against ND. Conor Lee with game winning field goal on final play. Two fourth quarter comebacks.
Pitt v. WVU. November 28, 1997. 41-38 victory. The 4th and 17 completion from Pistol Pete Gonzalez to Jake Hoffart is the play I remember, not the subsequent TD to Terry Murphy. Also recall WVU had chance to seal the win earlier in OT, but Amos Zereoue fumbled, which gave us the opportunity to seal the win.
Pitt v. Notre Dame. October 29, 1989. 45-7 loss. I was a sophomore at Pitt. I made a road trip with 5 buddies to South Bend with a rented Dodge minivan and 6 cases of beer in tow. Pitt ranked #7, ND was #1. We scored on our first drive, Alex Van Pelt to Ronald Redmon. We didn’t score again. But it was a great, great trip. Slept on the floor of a dorm, and one night in the van. Beautiful campus.
Pitt v. Notre Dame. November 13, 2004. 41-38 win. Tyler Palko throws 5 TDs and then drops an F bomb on National Television in the post game interview. Little known fact: Cover of ND game program had a picture of several ND players tackling Billy Gaines, who had died the year before in a tragic accident. Walt Harris and Pitt players dedicated the win to him. Josh Cummings nailed a 32 yard FG with one second left.
Pitt v. Miami. September 18, 1997. 21-17 win. We hadn’t beat Miami since 1976. Our football program had been a mess for several years. It was a Thursday night homecoming game. Great atmosphere. I don’t recall specifics of the game, but do remember vividly that the goal posts not only came down, but were taken up into the stands, and almost out of the top of Pitt Stadium.
Pitt v. Clemson. November 12, 2016. 43-42 win. Chris Blewitt drills a 48 yard FG with 6 seconds left and Pitt pulls the shocker over #2 Clemson in Death Valley. Tons of big plays, although for some reason the one I most vividly remember besides the winning field goal was the Jordan Whitehead fumble return that was ultimately overturned on replay. Clemson goes on to win National Championship.
Tie. Pitt v. Villanova. September 3, 2016. Pitt v. Notre Dame. November 9, 2013. Sentimental choices. The outcome of the games are irrelevant, although we won both. Nova game was memorable because it was the first game for James Conner after he beat cancer. ND game because it was the day after my father-in-law, Sam, had open heart surgery. He has had season tickets since the early 70s (see above) and has NEVER missed a PSU, ND or WVU home game in all of those years. He insisted that my wife and I be there. We honored his wish and made the trip.
Pitt v. WVU. September 30, 1989. 31-31 tie. Game played at Mountaineer Field. My sophomore year at Pitt. I made the road trip with roommate and some other friends. Pitt losing 31-9 with 12 minutes left in fourth quarter. Alex Van Pelt, then a freshman, leads team back to improbable tie after throwing 4 interceptions earlier in game. Hoopies burned a lot of couches in Morganhole that night.
Pitt v. Cincinnati. December 5, 2009. 45-44 loss. Mardy Gilyard + Dave Wannstedt = Pitt loss. Ugly way to go, after holding three TD cushion in first half. Beginning of my hatred for Brian Kelly. Classless punk. Janocko fumbled snap also memorable. Loss kept us out of Orange Bowl.
Pitt v. Penn State. September 10, 2016. 42-39 victory. Having to wait 16 years for Penn State to play us again, the anticipation for this game was unbearable. The atmosphere was the best, as it remains the most attended game in Heinz Field history. We dominated the first half and held on at the end. Got to experience game with my kids, which was special. It was about 100 degrees in our seats. But who cares? We won.
Number One Best Game!
Pitt v. WVU. December 1, 2007. 13-9 victory. So many great memories from this game. Bostick TD. Shady’s electrifying runs. A defense that didn’t miss a tackle. Wanny roaming the sidelines on crutches. WVU kicker missing several field goals. Knocked WVU out of National Championship game (no playoffs yet). But most vivid memory is the Rich Rod press conference after the game. While he described the game as a “nightmare”, the Pitt team can be heard in the background, loudly cheering in their adjacent locker room. Short of another National Championship, this one will be hard to beat.