Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Backyard Brawl: 100 Years of WVU and Pitt Football

Overview, 30 Years of Backyard Brawl Highlights, Newsflash & a Poem

It's the Mountaineers Vs. the Panthers with a berth for WVU in the BCS National Championship on the line. 100 Years of the Backyard Brawl between West Virginia University and University of Pittsburgh.
A story, scenes from the last 30 years, a newsflash and a poem. A complete look at the Backyard Brawl.
It's been nearly a year since Rich Rodriguez made the toughest decision of his career, rejecting a lucrative offer at Alabama and returning for his seventh season at West Virginia.

It turned out to be the right move. Rodriguez is one win from playing for a national title.

No. 2 West Virginia (11-1, 5-1 Big East) will start mapping a trip to New Orleans if it can beat Pittsburgh (4-7, 2-4) in the 100th Backyard Brawl on Saturday night.

It would be a journey like no other in school history.

The Mountaineers have maintained a calm, businesslike approach on their ascent to the national stage. If others had the Mountaineers in the national title talk at the start of the season, Rodriguez wasn't among them.

"We don't talk nationally as much as we could talk about competing for a Big East championship," Rodriguez said. "We've been in the hunt over the last several years and we thought this team had the same chance if we had a little luck. And they've performed the way they're capable."

Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads has played a role in some of college football's biggest rivalries, including Ohio State vs. Michigan. None, he says, is like Pitt vs. West Virginia in one special quality.

To Rhoads, the Backyard Brawl is a perfect nickname for an always-physical, always-meaningful series that will be played for the 100th time Saturday night when Pitt tries to block No. 2 West Virginia's path to the national championship game.

Other rivalries are better known nationally and make a bigger impact on the Top 25 rankings, but the Brawl decides who is the toughest kid on a very small block.

"This rivalry is big and it's important," Rhoads said Wednesday. "This one is mean. This one is physical and these are two teams that like to get after each other for 60 minutes."

Separated by only 75 miles of interstate highway, the Panthers and Mountaineers often recruit from the same talent pool, with brothers and former high school teammates sometimes landing on opposing sides.

30 Years of Backyard Brawl Highlights

1977: Pitt’s 44-3 win at Mountaineer Field in Jackie Sherrill’s first season as Pitt’s coach remains the Panthers’ most lopsided win in Morgantown during the rivalry.

1978: Tailback Ray “Rooster” Jones and the Pitt offense broke out for a season-high 52 points in a 52-7 defeat of WVU at Pitt Stadium.

1979: Freshman quarterback Dan Marino directed Pitt to a 24-17 victory in the final college football game played at old Mountaineer Field.

1980: Starting free safety Rick Trocano moved over to offense in the second quarter to replace the injured Dan Marino, and led Pitt to four second-quarter touchdowns during the Panthers’ 42-14 win at Pitt Stadium.

1980: West Virginia had just three days to prepare for No. 2-rated Pitt after making a midseason trip to Hawaii.

1980: Don Nehlen is introduced to the Backyard Brawl with a 42-14 loss to the Panthers. It was the worst defeat a Nehlen-coached West Virginia team endured against Pitt.

1981: With Danny Daniels starting at quarterback in place of the injured Dan Marino, Pitt failed to complete a single pass, but still won the game, 17-0, at Mountaineer Field.

1982: Dan Marino’s six-yard scoring pass to Julius Dawkins rallied Pitt from a 13-0 fourth-quarter deficit on its way to a 16-13 win at Pitt Stadium, the Panthers’ seventh straight in the Backyard Brawl.

1982: The country was introduced to All-American linebacker Darryl Talley, who intercepted a Dan Marino pass and blocked a punt for a safety in West Virginia’s 16-13 loss to the No. 2-rated Panthers.

1982: The 1982 game was one of just five times both teams were nationally ranked: Pitt was rated No. 2 and West Virginia was 14th after upset wins over Oklahoma and Maryland.

1983: West Virginia drove 90 yards on 14 plays – 13 of them runs – against Pitt’s No. 1-ranked defense to snap the Panthers’ seven-game losing streak 24-21 in 1983.

1984: Willie Drewery’s 74-yard punt return for a touchdown helps West Virginia to an easy 28-10 victory at Pitt in 1984.

1985: The two teams played to a 10-10 tie in Morgantown in one of more non-descript games in Backyard Brawl history. It was the first tie in the series since 1909.

1986: Mike Gottfried won his first Backyard Brawl as coach of the Panthers by a 48-16 count at Pitt Stadium.

1987: Neither team scored a touchdown, but Jeff VanHorne booted a pair for Pitt as the Panthers won in Morgantown, 6-3. It’s the last time a touchdown wasn’t scored in a Backyard Brawl.

1988: Skeptical that West Virginia was for real and installed as a one-point underdog by the odds makers, the Mountaineers rolled to a 31-10 victory over Pitt on the way to their first undefeated, untied regular season in school history.

1989: In the first Backyard Brawl played at night, Eddie Frazier’s 42-yard field goal as time expired capped a Pitt rally that saw the Panthers erase a 31-9 fourth quarter deficit and produce a 31-31 tie.

1990: Panther Ricky Turner returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, but West Virginia beat the Panthers, 38-24, at Pitt Stadium. It’s the last time a kickoff was returned for a score in the Backyard Brawl.

1991: Sean Gilbert returned an interception for a touchdown as Pitt beat WVU, 34-3, in the first-ever Big East Conference game for both schools.

1991: West Virginia’s plans to use a no-huddle, shot-gun offense were thwarted when quarterback Darren Studstill went down with a shoulder injury in the first quarter.

1992: West Virginia registered a 44-6 beating in one of Pitt’s worst home defeats in Backyard Brawl history.

1993: Johnny Majors’ second go-around at Pitt wasn’t nearly as successful, dropping a 42-21 decision to West Virginia in Morgantown on the way to losing four straight to the Mountaineers by a combined score of 154-62.

1993: Curtis Martin broke loose for an 86-yard run – not a touchdown – but Pitt lost to the unbeaten Mountaineers in Morgantown, 42-21.

1994: Dietrich Jells set a Pitt single-game record with 225 receiving yards in this Backyard Brawl at Pitt Stadium.

1994: John Ryan ran for a two-point conversion to give Pitt a 41-40 lead late in the contest after Pitt had trailed 31-6 in the second quarter. The Mountaineers eventually won this Brawl, 47-41.

1994: Chad Johnston hit Zach Abraham for a 60-yard touchdown with 15 seconds left to beat Pitt 47-41. Johnston passed for a career-high 396 yards.

1996: Amos Zereoue took his very first college carry 69 yards for a touchdown in West Virginia’s season-opening 34-0 victory over Pitt. It was the only time West Virginia has managed back-to-back shutout losses against the Panthers.

1997: Pete Gonzalez completed a fourth-and-17 pass to Jake Hoffart that set up the game-winning strike to Terry Murphy in Pitt’s dramatic 41-38 triple-overtime win at Mountaineer Field, sending the Panthers to their first bowl game since the 1989 season.

1997: Amos Zereoue’s 151-yard rushing performance was wiped out in Pitt’s 41-38 triple-overtime loss to Pitt. It was the first overtime game in Backyard Brawl history.

1997: Current radio voice Tony Caridi describes his first Backyard Brawl for the Mountaineer Sports Network.

1998: For the first time since 1982 (vs. North Carolina), Pitt hosts a home game at a venue other than Pitt Stadium. The Mountaineers spoil the occasion, winning 52-14 at Three Rivers Stadium.

1998: Hometown product Marc Bulger torched Pitt’s secondary for 409 yards and six touchdowns in West Virginia’s 52-14 victory over the Panthers.

1999: Marc Bulger capped off a brilliant career with a 20-of-30, 331-yard passing performance in West Virginia’s 52-21 triumph over Pitt to end the 1999 season. Freshman Avon Cobourne ran for a season-high 210 yards in the win.

2000: In the final college football game played at Three Rivers Stadium – Pitt Stadium had been demolished earlier in the year – Kevan Barlow ran for a Backyard Brawl single-game record 272 yards in Pitt’s 38-28 victory.

2001: Antonio Bryant caught 11 passes – one for a touchdown – to give Pitt a 23-17 win at Mountaineer Field, keeping Pitt’s bowl hopes alive (5-5) following a 1-5 start to the season.

2002: Larry Fitzgerald caught a Heinz Field single-game record 11 passes in the Panthers’ 24-17 loss.

2002: Pittsburgh native Rasheed Marshall’s 74-yard touchdown pass to Connelsville’s Phil Braxton was the deciding score in West Virginia’s 24-17 victory at Pitt in Heinz Field.

2003: Rod Rutherford passed for a career-high 419 yards at Mountaineer Field.

2003: Quincy Wilson rumbled for 208 yards rushing to help West Virginia to a 52-31 victory over Pitt in Morgantown. It was the last time both teams played a Backyard Brawl nationally ranked.

2004: Tyler Palko’s fourth-quarter touchdown run gave Pitt a 16-13 win on Thanksgiving Night at Heinz Field.

2004: Without suspended wide receiver Chris Henry, West Virginia’s BCS bowl hopes went up in flames at Pittsburgh, 16-13 in a game the Mountaineers led until the fourth quarter.

2005: Freshman quarterback Patrick White ran for 220 yards in leading West Virginia to a 45-13 victory over Pitt on frozen Milan Puskar Stadium. At halftime when asked what his team could do to stop West Virginia’s rushing attack Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt infamously said, “Run faster.”

2006: Steve Slaton and Patrick White became just the third tandem in NCAA history to rush for more than 200 yards in the same game in West Virginia’s 45-27 victory at Pitt.

2006: Patrick White became only the ninth player in NCAA history to rush and pass for more than 200 yards in the same game in West Virginia’s 45-27 win over Pitt.

2006: Kicker Pat McAfee’s 51-yard field goal was the longest in Heinz Field history by either a professional or a collegian.

Pre-game News: Wannstedt Signs Extension
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt has a new three-year contract extension.

Wannstedt was given the new deal despite not producing a winning record in three seasons. Before he arrived, the team went to a bowl game five consecutive seasons.

Wannstedt was already under contract through the 2009 season and is now signed through 2012. The announcement was made on the day of the Backyard Brawl game against Number 2 West Virginia, which now dominates a rivalry Pitt once controlled.

Pitt apparently chose to give Wannstedt the extension now to end any immediate speculation about his status as Pitt winds up a second losing season under the former Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins coach.

What's a big game with a poem or song. This one has a poem.
"Twas the night before Pittsburgh , when all through my mind, Were visions of couch burnings, both yours and mine. Firemen were resting and acting quite lazy, But they knew that things were about to get crazy.

The players were nestled, Markell did his dreds, While visions of bourbon Street danced in their heads. There were Quinton's gold teeth, Larry's son in his lap, While the quarterback made noises to sound like a cat.

When down in the endzone there arose such a noise, They sprang from their homes and called all their boys. To the field they flew, as fast as Devine, Making sure to pick up the offensive line.

The invaders had arrived at the stadium early, These panthers were looking noticeably surly. There was a point to this late-night trip through the hills, They were out on the field doing defensive drills.

With a dapper old coach who combed his mustache, You knew in a moment it must be Wannstedt. He'd made his name as a defensive master, And he whistled and shouted for them to run faster!

"Watch Slaton! Watch Schmitt! Watch Reynaud and White! Watch option! Watch bubble! Could be a rough night! Let's stand on the goal line and build a big wall, And keep them from their shot to play for it all!"

As they began to believe his bold rally cry, There was a flash and a pop up high in the sky They reacted the same, with a quick double take, What they saw made them stop in their cleats and quake.

On top of the stadium a man made his stand, As he calmly adjusted his Nike wristbands. He said "My name's Rich, as you surely know," Then he ran down the bleachers with Mountaineers in tow.

They were dressed all in gold, from their heads to their feet, And they looked like they'd win a 12-team track meet. A bundle of plays he had in his book, And there was no mistaking that confident look.

Pitt's eyes, how they widened! Their hearts, how they pounded! All for the biggest game since this brawl was founded. One side had momentum, the other desperation, This battle wouldn't wait for the eyes of the nation!

Caridi was roused from a much-needed sleep, So were Hickman and Hertzel, the last with a bleep. They brought their pens, paper and elaborate prose, To witness this battle of bitter old foes.

It was dark and cold, your breath you could see, But that didn't stop the kickoff of Pat McAfee. The tackle, of course came from an old Hawk named Emery, And so started this game that would soon be a memory.

They spoke so few words as they went to work, But score after score drove the visitors berserk. The Mountaineers rolled, as was expected, While the Panthers backed off, clearly dejected.

There was a Gatorade shower that gave poor Rich shivers, While no one seemed happier than one Vaughn Rivers. They exclaimed after singing about Almost Heaven, "We'll see you in New Orleans on January 7."

Compiled by Mondoreb
AP - Backyard Brawl stakes high as Mountaineers hope to clinch spot in title game
Sporting News - Backyard Brawl Turns 100
MSNsportsNET - Tales from the Backyard Brawl
Pitt, Wannstedt Agree To Contract Extension
Backyard Brawl Poem Makes Internet Rounds


Death by 1000 Papercuts Front Page.

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