The Post-Gazette’s Paul Zeise wrote the following in his build-up to the recent Pitt-Penn State college basketball game:
It used to be Pitt-Penn State in anything got people riled up no matter what the sport but to be honest, this is just another game. In fact, the athletic department issued a note today that tickets for the game still remained, which is amazing.
But that is the anatomy of how to kill a rivalry — join different conferences, don’t play each other for more than a decade in football and stop playing in basketball and eventually the fans will stop caring.
I hear people say that in 2016 when the two schools meet again in football it will be like old times but I don’t buy that. This young generation of fans has no reference point for the rivalry, they, unlike us, didn’t grow up with it, didn’t grow up with classic games and families split down the middle and rooting against each other one day per year.
Zeise may be right that it won’t be exactly like the old times but I doubt it’ll be all that tame either. I can guarantee there will be tons of fans like myself – in their mid-30’s (shit, I’ll be in my mid-30’s?!) and 40’s – who will remember it. Lots of people who did grow up with the rivalry who still remember it.
And the younger generations, I don’t think they’ll have to search all that deep to drum up the hatred. While Pitt kids’ blood boils at the thought of WVU instead, they don’t exactly have much love for Penn State. They still fire barbs at each other. They still brag up their schools and their teams to each other. And believe you me, Twitter is very effective at helping people get under each other’s skins.
I think sports fandom is defined as much, if not more so, by the teams we hate as the teams we love. It will come with time, with hype leading up to the game, with the middle and older generations telling the kids what it was like, feeding them tidbits of info to slake their thirst. Trust in the hatred.
Hail to Pitt. P-E-N-N-S-T sucks.