PITTSBURGH (93-7 The FAN) — Ever since Pitt’s 44-17 win Thursday night against USF at Heinz Field I’ve grown incredibly aggravated.
That’s because the announced attendance — just over 40,000 — was as big a topic of conversation as the Panthers impressive performance. I’d like to once and for all put to rest the discussion regarding why there are or aren’t Pitt fans packing the stands every Saturday (and the occasional week night).
Quite simply, Pitt is as heart breaking a football program as there is in the country.
No, it’s not because Pitt plays off campus. And it’s not because of fans being upset with the athletic department and recent turmoil off the field.
Lastly, it’s not because there aren’t any Pitt fans out there.
There are a ton. Pitt fans are all over the country and the city of Pittsburgh is full of them. Having to venture over to Heinz Field has a minute impact on attendance, as does the hiring and firing of several coaches this offseason.
What makes the biggest impression on whether or not Pitt fans show up to Heinz Field is the product they go to see. That product has been average at best for the greater part of three decades.
Pitt’s best season over the last 10 years is a toss up between an 8-4 team that won a tiebreaker to get pummeled by Utah in the Fiesta Bowl and a 10-win team that lost a Big East championship that was all but won in a single quarter of play.
That’s saying a lot.
There’s been preseason hype that continually goes unfulfilled and marquee players — as recently as wide receiver Jon Baldwin last season — that have failed to show up in the most pivotal of moments.
Many in this area like to compare Pitt’s fan base to that of West Virginia and Penn State. I get why. All three schools represent a similar geographic area.
But what’s incomparable are the levels of success of all three programs. Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown is packed every weekend because we’re in the midst of the most successful decade of football in West Virginia history.
Penn State has a packed stadium thanks to years of recent success as well. It also has the advantage of capitalizing on a Philadelphia market that presents no competition for college football (Temple is not competition). The state of Pennsylvania is pretty big and football fans in Erie, Scranton and Harrisburg have few ties to Pittsburgh and, thus, root for the Nittany Lions.
You can go ahead and say Pitt competes with the Steelers for attention. You can say this is a town for professional sports and college comes second.
But I don’t get how you can argue any point that doesn’t come back to one thing: wins and losses. Pitt hasn’t had enough of the former.
Look at the Pirates. They were in first place in July and PNC Park was sold out. We all instantly forgot about the 18 previous seasons of baseball devastation. By the end of the season we forgot they were still playing baseball. It’s the culture of this town, and you have to win for people to show up.
Heinz Field has rarely filled up since Pitt moved there and called it home. Pitt Stadium was the exact same way.
So please, opinionated sports fans and talk-show hosts, quit taking the easy way out. Quit pretending like there’s some mystifying factor that goes into those empty yellow seats every Saturday.
Quit bashing the fans that do and don’t show up. They’re just rooting on past precedent.
Those yellow seats will remain until Pitt is a consistent winner.
Chris Gates | Area 4-1-Zoo Blog