Pitt vs SYR Game Thread & “On Thunder Road”

Here is a nice take on our football team’s season. It was written by Troy (UlteriorMotifs) and we welcome a new writer here on the POV ‘community blog’ !! Thanks Troy –

I’m writing this the night before Pitt’s final regular season game. Hopefully by the time you read this, Pitt will have crushed the Orange and ran their record to 10-2 on the season. (Editor’s Note – This is a SYR gameday thread also) If by some chance, Syracuse upsets the Panthers, that will certainly be fodder for the Same Ole Pitt crowd. But regardless of the outcome against the ’Cuse, this campaign will go down as the most enjoyable Pitt football season of my lifetime.  

That is, at once, both a testament to this season and an indictment of the 40 that came before it. I started attending Pitt games in the Dan Marino era around the age of four. I wore the number 13 in youth sports for years afterward and I will be able to hear the crowd at Pitt Stadium chanting ‘”Huuugh—Greeeen!!!” for as long as I live. But I was too young – six-years old in Marino’s final season — to truly appreciate those teams, and I was definitely too young not to take them for granted. That was back when a 9-3 record, #10 national ranking, and a narrow bowl game loss qualified as a disappointment. Now, after a few decades in the wilderness, that very same result would seem like a gift from the heavens.

Maybe it’s the soft bigotry of low expectations, but 10-2 feels pretty darn good considering Pitt’s only hit the 10-win mark once since Marino took his act to South Florida and hasn’t done it in the regular season since Danny’s junior year. A non-comprehensive list of programs that have won 10 regular season games more than once in that same timeframe: Washington State, Oregon State, Kansas, Kansas State, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Illinois, Northwestern, Boston College, Syracuse, and Cincinnati.

It was against that backdrop that I picked Pitt to go 7-5 this year. Three extra wins is some pretty fine gravy, but what really made this season special was not just the record, but the fact that Pitt was actually entertaining, something they’ve rarely been since Walt Harris left town. The transformation of a ho-hum offense into a dominant force that sits near the top of the national rankings is only surpassed by the quantum leap Kenny Pickett made from a QB with a 13-9 TD to INT ratio all the way to fringe Heisman candidate and possible first round draft pick. Of course Pickett is joined by Jordan Addison as one of the best in the nation at his position, but that development, while impressive, is considerably less surprising.

It’s been a while since Pitt has had multiple skill position players that are top five nationally at their positions and that star power has made all the difference. I expected Addison to be an all-conference player-type player and maybe even an honorable mention All-American candidate, but he’s gone far beyond that both statistically and with his clutch play. Stealing that would-be interception and then taking it to the house against Virginia is one of my all-time plays by a Panther. Where quarterback is concerned, you can attribute Pitt’s lack of 10-win seasons to structural reasons and self-inflicted wounds at the administrative level, but the easiest single explanation is that Pitt hasn’t had a QB worthy of high draft consideration since Marino left. That changed this year and so have Pitt’s fortunes.

That’s not to say Pickett and Addison are solely responsible for this team’s success. One example: the line while not great in all aspects has exceeded very modest expectations and played a key role in facilitating Pitt’s offensive juggernaut. But if you pick it apart, this team is not fundamentally different than about 6-8 other Pitt squads over the years, except at QB and WR1. Running backs are very good, but not Shady, Dion, Graham good (yet). The defensive line has dropped off a bit from recent years, same with the secondary. The linebackers are better. Mostly, it’s a wash outside of Pickett and Addison except in one important respect – you can tell this team expects to win and see it’s much more resilient. There’s no “here we go again” with them, although I was definitely thinking that way after the disastrous start against Tennessee.

This season just has a different feel and it built as the year went on. I think it was after the win against Georgia Tech (maybe it was Virginia Tech?) when I posted half-jokingly that it would be just like Pitt to beat Tennessee out-of-conference, catch Clemson in a down year, run the table in the ACC, and then miss out on the CFB playoff because of a loss at home to Western Michigan. The annual defeat to Miami took care of that scenario, but it wasn’t too far off.

The loss to Western Michigan will always sting because a 12-1 Pitt with its lone loss to a solid Miami team would have been in the conversation for the playoff until the announcement, which is publicity and recruiting value you just can’t buy. As a fan, it would have been great to extend that sense of relevance just a little but further. On the other hand, a one-loss team from this year’s ACC wouldn’t have jumped undefeated Cincinnati or a one-loss Notre Dame or Oklahoma State. And even if they did, getting the 4-seed and a beatdown from Georgia would trigger PTSD from the last time Pitt won the conference and went to a major bowl against Utah.   

I’d be content with a Peach Bowl matchup against Notre Dame (I think Pitt would beat them) and a lot more nervous if they drew Ole Miss. But I know they would acquit themselves well in either case. More than anything, it’s nice to be in the game, nice to have national caliber stars at skill positions other than running back, and nice to have an exciting, effective offense that puts pressure on the opponent. Along with 10-win seasons, these qualities have been in rare supply.

Blueblood programs and conference critics may turn up their noses at Pitt’s season, but as someone who came of age during the decline of the 80s and the debacle of the 90s, this season has been a great ride and the most enjoyable of my lifetime.

As Bruce Springsteen said in Thunder Road:

Don’t run back inside

Darling, you know just what I’m here for

So you’re scared, and you’re thinking

That maybe we ain’t that young anymore

Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night

You ain’t a beauty, but, hey, you’re alright

Oh, and that’s alright with me


P/S: BTW – I saw Springsteen three times in person – once when I was working backstage at the Syria Mosque…