PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) — It’s more than a game; it’s a clash of cultures.
Pitt and Penn State will renew this weekend what was once one of the biggest rivalries in college football after a more than decade and a half hiatus.
The Pittsburgh area is not just home to the University of Pittsburgh, it’s also home to more Penn State alumni than anywhere else in the world.
So, it’s no surprise to see plenty of trash talking from both fan bases as they look forward to Saturday’s noon kickoff at Heinz Field. In anticipation, Pitt was holding a pep rally Friday afternoon.
It’s been a long time since we cheered for a Pitt-Penn State game. In fact the last time we did, the cheerleaders and the players were toddlers.
It’s been 16 years since the intrastate rivalry’s last game, when Three Rivers Stadium was still standing. Saturday’s game is expected to be a record crowd of 70,000 at Heinz Field.
“I got a lot of family that are Penn State fans, lots of family that are Pitt fans. I think it’s a tremendous thing. It should be played every year,” said 93-7 The Fan’s Paul Zeise.
While it’s unclear just how heated things will get on the turf at Heinz Field, city officials and the top administrators at each school took precautions to make sure the action stays between the lines.
University of Pittsburgh police planned to scour residential neighborhoods around the campus in search of upholstered furniture left outside – the kind that can sometimes turn into kindling in celebration (or defeat) – and have anything that could serve as fuel for a pretty good bonfire removed.
Pitt’s chancellor and Penn State’s president issued a joint statement Thursday, encouraging the fans attending the game to “make wise choices.”
Both teams come in 1-0 after less than spectacular debuts against lesser opponents, perhaps because they were looking ahead. That won’t be an issue this time around. The winner gets in-state bragging rights for at least 52 weeks and a very sizable chip to play in the living rooms of in-state recruits.
“It’s just a big opportunity for Pitt to get back in the national spotlight,” said Mary Olup, a Pitt fan. “[Pat] Narduzzi’s just the right coach for this program, and it’s a beginning. It’s going to get us back to where we need to be and where we want to be.”
Narduzzi made it a point in the run-up to the game to give his kids a crash course, one that happened to coincide with a rare media blackout that Narduzzi described as necessary to make sure the Panthers didn’t get caught up in any distractions before arguably the program’s most notable nonconference game since Sept. 16, 2000, when Pitt handed Penn State and coach Joe Paterno a 12-0 loss.
“I know when I first got into a major rivalry, I didn’t get it the first year,” Narduzzi said. “I got it the second year. I want to make sure they don’t do the same. It’s my job to make sure they embrace it and understand what it’s all about.”
Penn State coach James Franklin took a slightly different tack. While it may take some convincing for some of the Nittany Lions to get just how big a deal this is within the state, there are sizable number of players on both sides who call Pennsylvania home – some of whom were wooed by both schools – that won’t need a reminder.
“So we just want to make sure we have our composure and we have our poise and we go out and play as hard as we can and execute,” Franklin said. “I want them to play with passion, with emotion, but right up to the edge without having any issues.”
On StubHub, ticket prices are soaring. You’ll pay a grand for club seats, or you can get a standing room-only ticket for $120.
There’s also been speculation that Penn State fans scooped up Pitt season ticket plans just to be able to fill Heinz Field Saturday. But Pitt fans say they’ll dominate in the stands. The father of a former Pitt quarterback says he’s sure of it.
“This is Pittsburgh. This is Pitt territory. I think maybe, might be 70/30 in favor of Pitt,” said Pat Bostick, Sr.
“There’s no way there’ll be more Penn State fans,” says Zeise. “This is a pipe dream, this idea there’s going to be 30,000 Penn State fans. You can’t possibly have bought that many season tickets in order to have that many fans, which is the story they’re trying to tell.”
The word came down from Pitt Friday afternoon that Penn State failed to sell its allotment of tickets. They were sent back to Pitt, and all have since then been sold.
(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)