Pitt, Polio and Perspective

Pitt, Polio and Perspective

Here is a rather long and in-depth piece, part Bio and part look at the state of the program,  by our reader and some time Commenter Troy (UlteriorMotifs). The thoughts and writings are all his…

How does the Pitt football program compare to its peers and what are its prospects?

First time caller, long time listener. Actually, I’ve commented several times on Pitt POV and Pitt Blather, but very infrequently. I’ve been a daily reader of both sites for many years and finally decided to cast off my lurker status and participate in a significant way.

To establish my bona fides (or lack thereof), let me state quickly that, apart from a pair of summer school courses, I never attended Pitt. I have, however, been a fan of the program practically since birth. I grew up in the area, went to grade school about 10 minutes away, and my father and one uncle have Pitt degrees. I started going to basketball games at Fitzgerald when Pitt was still in the Eastern Eight – not just the marquee contests, but also scintillating matchups against powerhouses like Westminster and St. Francis (PA).

I was a regular presence at various Pitt summer programs and the proud winner of the hustle award from Pitt basketball camp. For my efforts, I received a poster of Bernard King doing a reverse dunk, his head just under a rim illuminated like a halo, with the inscription St. Bernard underneath. That poster hung on my wall for many a year and may have marked the pinnacle of my athletic achievement.

The first number I ever wore in youth sports was #13 (you know why) and I attended the vast majority of Pitt football games from the time I was a toddler until I went away to high school in Westmoreland County. By this time, I was estranged from my father, yet I chose to hang on to the best memories of our relationship, which involved parking in random driveways absurdly far from Pitt stadium to save a few bucks (Dad was Costanza-like when it came to paying for parking) and walking down from the Hill into the mass of humanity surrounding the stadium.

We probably started going to the games together when I was four and it took me years to figure out why the college students mobbing all around us were acting so strangely. At the time, I just assumed they were excited about Pitt football; I didn’t realize chemical enhancement was in play.

I was years away from sampling the good stuff; I just loved devouring every morsel of information in the program guide, hearing the roar of the Panther over the PA, the steep climb up Cardiac Hill on those rare occasions when we scored a parking spot in the flatlands of Oakland, the Panther icon painted brightly on the building behind the stadium, the Golden Girls (we always brought binoculars), one side of the stadium chanting “Hugh” and the other responding “Green”,  and, of course, post-game trips to the “O” for cheese-drowned, artery-clogging curly fries.

So, I stayed with Pitt as I came of age – even though that coincided with the shockingly rapid descent of program from elite, to good, to average, to outright putrid. I’m not old enough (43) to really remember the glory days, but as someone who achieved consciousness just afterward, the glory days were recent enough to think Pitt might someday reclaim those dizzying heights. 30 years of average performance – and that’s what’s it been really apart from the national embarrassment of the Hackett/Majors 2 period – has tempered my expectations.

While I still hope against hope for the magical season where everything falls into place, I am (largely) resigned to the idea that Pitt will never win another national championship and I’d say the chance of Pitt making the college football playoff in my lifetime, if I live another 43 years, is probably about 50/50.

This may sound defeatist, but consider that the last time a team from outside college football’s elite hoisted the National Championship trophy, was in 1991, nearly 30 years ago. And even that year, the upstart team was Washington (a pretty strong program historically) which split the title with the mighty Miami Hurricanes.

The previous year, Colorado and Georgia Tech, in arguably the most unlikely outcome ever, shared the crown. But the sport has changed since then for many reasons, some of them related to demography, but most of them related to money, and since the early 90s, it’s been nothing but a stream of the usual suspects. Could Pitt break the glass ceiling? Sure, it’s possible, but exceedingly unlikely.

I don’t say this merely because of the last three decades of on-field results, although historical record plays a part. I’m not considering the team’s performance (fewer than 10 wins virtually every year) in a vacuum; looking at it in the context of Pitt’s commitment to athletics, as well as how the competitive landscape and local, regional, and national demographics have evolved in the nearly four decades since I started walking up that hill to Pitt Stadium.

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