No sport revels in its rivalries quite like college football.

Michigan-Ohio State, Auburn-Alabama, Oklahoma-Texas.

Just the mere mention of those games can get the heart pumping and the blood boiling.

Once upon a time there was rivalry right here in Pennsylvania that ranked with the very best in the nation.

Penn State-Pitt.

It had all the ingredients that make for a great rivalry -- proximity, intensity and success.

The schools were located less than 140 miles apart.

The fans of each team constantly rubbed shoulders with each other and usually rubbed each other the wrong way.

The assistant coaches annually found themselves in Keystone State recruiting battles that became legendary.

And when the rivalry reached its white-hot peak in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the two head coaches (Penn State's Joe Paterno and Pitt's Jackie Sherrill) absolutely detested each other.

Best of all, for about a decade, the two Eastern independents were almost permanent residents of the national top 10. From 1976 through 1986, the teams combined for three national championships.

There were profane T-shirts, obscene chants and unbridled venom.

Man was it fun.

After Sherrill bolted Pitt for Texas A&M in 1982, the rivalry lost a little of its bitter edge.

But the rivalry was really dealt its death blow when Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993 and Paterno decided that there was no longer room for Pitt on the Penn State schedule, at least on an annual basis.


Of course, the fact that Pitt helped torpedo JoePa's vision for an Eastern all-sports conference in the early 1980s made his decision to deep-six the rivalry easy. Paterno will hold a grudge and he knew that Pitt needed Penn State a lot more than Penn State needed Pitt. Beaver Stadium was always packed, no matter the opponent. Pitt, meanwhile, only managed a sell out when a big-time foe (Penn State, Notre Dame) came to town.

The rivalry was resumed, briefly, from 1997 through 2000, but it just wasn't the same. The programs had gone their separate ways, Penn State to the Big Ten and Pitt to the Big East. The intensity and the emotion were diminished. Plus, both programs had fallen from their greatest heights. None of the games had serious national title implications.

Now Pitt has a new coach, Todd Graham, who wants to renew the rivalry. He said so over the weekend. And he's not alone. Many Nittany Lion and Panther fans, especially those old enough to remember the glory days of the Penn State-Pitt rivalry, have been clamoring for the same thing.

Well, good luck, Todd.

Paterno, at age 84, is still in charge at Penn State. And his feelings about Pitt haven't changed. Heck, Paterno's feelings about anything almost never change. The man's photo should appear in the dictionary under "resolute."

Besides, the Penn State-Pitt rivalry had its time in the sun. But like any relationship gone sour, it's time has passed. It's been a generation since the game really meant something on the national stage.

And no matter how hard we may want to rekindle the flame to the Penn State-Pitt rivalry, it will never be the same.

It's time for both parties to move on, without each other.

-- Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dis patch. He can be reached at or at 854-1575, ext. 455.