Disclaimer – This article will make some people very happy. It will also likely piss some people off. That is fine. If you are part of the small population of Pitt fans that are pissed off, well that’s too bad. It is not meant as a personal slight, and I am simply harnessing your energy to further prove my point. Despite my opposition to your views, I continue value your perspective.
My first year at Pitt was 1997. When I stepped onto campus, Pitt football was on the brink of extinction. The team had averaged three wins over the previous five seasons under Paul Hackett and Johnny Majors II. Steve Pederson had just dropped the Script in favor of the Dinocat. New head coach Walt Harris had won just 11 games over three years at his previous head coaching job (University of the Pacific from 1989 to 1991). Indeed these were dark days for Pitt football.
And yet the team slogan was “We believe”. Perhaps that it was minted partway through the season, because after wining just three games the year before, Harris’ Panthers were starting to give the fans something to believe in.
In the first game, Pitt beat the Southwestern Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns 45-13. Pitt then lost to #1 Penn State in Happy Valley, but not nearly as badly as everyone expected (17 – 34). In game three, Pitt downed Houston on the road, scoring 35 points in the process. Lo and behold Pitt was 2 – 1 heading into a nationally televised Thursday night matchup with Miami.
You’ll remember of course, that Pitt upset the ‘Canes 21 – 17 at Pitt Stadium. That was my first Pitt football game. I still get chills when I think about it.
Later that season, we lost to Temple. A disgruntled upperclassman, a “hater” if you will, wrote a scathing letter to the Pitt news. You can easily imagine the tone and the content.
As a believer, I simply had to respond. I wrote my own letter to the Pitt News, and it was published. The title of that letter was “I believe” (although the Pitt news re-titled it as “The Fallacy of Non-Believers”).
A week after my letter had been published, I ran into a very attractive female acquaintance on campus. Turns out she had read it. Turns out she was impressed. Turns out she wanted to exchange numbers. She invited me to a party. A fair degree of merriment ensued.
I can only wonder if the hater had a similar experience.
So why I am I waxing nostalgic about a mediocre Pitt football team from 22 years ago? It’s because of the slogan. “We Believe”.
I got behind that slogan, as did most of the students and (probably) alumni. Our belief was vindicated. A previously irrelevant Pitt team won six games and went to their first bowl in nearly a decade. After a couple of rebuilding years (2-9 in 1998, 5-6 in 1999) Pitt reeled off five straight winning seasons, and averaged just a tick under 8 wins per season. And that slogan? It resurfaced in 2000, the year when Walt Harris’ winning streak was kicked off. Pitt won seven games and beat Penn State 12-0. (Incidentally I wrote a cover story for the now-defunct InPittsburgh Newsweekly that predicted some measure of Pitt’s success). After the destruction that Hackett and Majors II wrought on the program, this seven win football and beating Penn State was a welcome change.
And yet fans were still not happy. Harris was fired. Wannstedt was hired. Pitt traded three years of seven and eight win seasons for two years of nine and ten wins, and one year of eight. You know what happened after that. And if you don’t I encourage you to Google it.
These days the “good days” of Harris era are pretty much the floor, against much tougher competition than Harris ever faced. Pat Narduzzi has has two good seasons, one bad season and a “mediocre” season in which he won 7 games and the ACC Coastal against the fourth toughest schedule in the country. He also got blown out three times and failed to win a very winnable bowl game.
Still, I believe that Pitt is aiming much higher then 7-8 wins per season and the occasional Coastal Division crown. About one year ago a (former?) Pitt POV commenter “Ulterior Motifs” wrote a piece that outlines up what Pitt aspirations could (and should) be. A paraphrased quote from former Acting AD Randy Juhl summarizes it nicely: “If Pitt can help cure polio and invent CPR, we sure as hell can win 10 football games”
10 games? Yep. Sounds crazy doesn’t it? Pitt has one 10 games exactly once since the 1981. Perhaps this was just a long-standing Pitt administrator telling fans what they wanted to hear. Perhaps. But I’d wager my favorite Pitt Script hat that if you were to look Randy Juhl in the eye today, he’d tell you he believes.
The question is do you believe? Because I do. I also think about 80% of the fan base believes. Between the posts on this board, the crosstalk on Twitter and the Pitt Panther Fanatics Facebook group, it’s pretty easy to get a pulse. Sure, there are a vocal minority that do not believe, and that is fine. But here is a dirty little secret that I’ll let you in on. No matter how well Pitt is playing or recruiting, no matter how much they are winning, there will always be someone who says “this isn’t good enough” And that is never going to change.
The mighty Alabama is a case in point.
Saban described how he grew up wanting to be a car dealer, talked about favorite movie (Patton, of course), and his relationship with Bill Bellichick. But perhaps his most reveling moment came early in the episode, when host Feherty asked him about how he deals with the “haters”:
“I just think that in every sport, there’s about 20 percent bad fans. They don’t get it. They’re disrespectful. They do things and say things that don’t really need to be said; that aren’t helpful; that don’t reflect the image of what college football is all about, or even what sports is all about. You should appreciate the competition.”
Saban when on to say that for a lot of people, college football is an escape, which often leads to over-the-top expectations.
So yea. There is that. And don’t get me wrong, we welcome the vocal minority here on the POV, because without them, this blog would be boring as hell, but everyone should realize that these people are the minority. They, like the guy who wrote that letter to the Pitt News back in 1997, do not believe. They do not believe that the administration wants to win. They do not believe that the coaching staff is good enough. They do not believe we can win in recruiting, and they do not believe we’ll have sustainable success on the field.
That’s too bad.
Because We Believe. We believe that the administration actually does want to win. We believe Pitt is investing more in football than ever before. We believe we have a coach that has laid the foundation for a program that develops players. We believe we are great at scouting talent – regardless of stars. We believe Pitt will be fielding teams filled with juniors and seniors for the foreseeable future. We believe Narduzzi, with the exception of the Canada defection, has systematically improved his coaching staff over the last four years. We believe Pitt has upgraded its non-coaching positions, from graphic designer to recruiting coordinator, to (yep) equipment manager. We believe Pitt won a Coastal Division Championship. We believe they will win it again. We believe Pitt has slowly and methodically made recruiting inroads into Florida and Georgia. We believe that Pitt landed a legitimate Florida four-star safety (who is also a Rivals top 300 player). We believe Pitt also land a legitimate Florida four-star wide receiver. We believe Narduzzi landed the number one recruit in the city of Pittsburgh while thumbing his nose at Ohio State and Penn State. Last but not least, We believe Narduzzi has a legitimate shot at the best best recruiting class since Dave Wannstedt landed at 21 in 2006.
So go ahead haters (yup, I said it), “realists” or whatever label makes you feel most comfortable. Go ahead and prove your points. That is your right as a Pitt Fan. Go ahead and say that we don’t have enough 5.7’s. Go ahead and say “yes but that’s not sustainable”. Go ahead and say the staff isn’t good enough. The university isn’t investing enough. The fans don’t care enough. Go ahead and say whatever you want, because no matter what you say we’re still going to believe.
Hail to freakin’ Pitt