Forgive Pitt fans if they approached Saturday’s season opener against Delaware with a near complete cloak of apathy.
Recent history warrants skepticism, despair and even a lack of interest.
Ready to relive some painful memories? Come on, you’re probably a Pitt fan if you’re reading this. Chances are you’re a masochist and are looking forward to the following.
Pitt opened the 2012 season, and the Paul Chryst era, with a loss to Division I-AA (Yes, I recognize it’s not longer called this) Youngstown State – at Heinz Field. It marked the Panthers first loss to a program in a lower division.
Pitt stormed into Toledo ranked No. 9 in the country in 2003 and left with a humbling 35-31 loss. Sure, Toledo’s Bruce Gradkowski and Lance Moore are current Steelers, but this loss ranks more maddening than most. Bill Hillgrove’s constant calls of, “Gradkowski complete for nine yards” can still be heard somewhere over Lake Erie.
Urban Meyer once coached at Bowling Green, but his Falcons lost at old Pitt Stadium back in the days of Latef Grim and then-freshman Antonio Brown. But, fast forward to the 2008 season, and Bowling Green left Heinz Field with a 27-17 win.
There’s been the Swinging Gate vs. Texas A&M, the Palko Slide against UConn, the terrible loss at Ohio and the “Whatever You Do, Don’t Kick the Ball to Marty Gilyard” game where Pitt blew a double-digit lead to Cincinnati with a berth in the Sugar Bowl on the line.
Pitt once lost to Notre Dame in a game where the Irish returned three kicks for touchdowns – in the second quarter. And, who wants to remember the 1996 fiasco at Ohio State where the Buckeyes defeated Pitt, 72-0. The Panthers crossed midfield once in that game and David Boston returned a punt for a touchdown with only eight players on the field.
That’s a lot of low points in a span of less than two decades. So, again, forgive Pitt fans if they entered Saturday’s game with incredible trepidation.
After all, the most Pitt thing to do would be fall behind or lose to Delaware then go win at Miami in the regular-season finale.
Instead, it was Pitt 62, Delaware 0.
The Blue Hens were held under 70 total yards of offense. Pitt rushed for 409 yards, with James Conner rushing for four first-half touchdowns.
It’s as unPitt as Pitt can get.
So what does it mean?
Too early to tell, but it’s certainly a good sign. Granted Delaware is Division I-AA (yes, yes, I know) program, but Pitt has had problems putting those teams away in the past. Villanova, Furman or The Citadel ring any bells?
Pitt simply doesn’t put teams away, let alone dominate them.
Friday’s game at Boston College should offer some indication if Pitt is improving in Chryst’s third year or if this opening game was nothing more than an unusual occurrence, like Warren G producing the jam of the summer in back-to-back years. That actually happened in 1993 (Indo Smoke) and 1994 (Regulate).