Wannstedt asked the quarterback of the 1970 Panthers, Dave Havern, to address the team. “Dave was probably 5-5, 150 pounds. His nickname was ‘Mouse’. And we came back and won that Columbia University clothesgame, and to this day – and Dave was a successful high school coach in Pittsburgh – when they talk about Dave Havern, th

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Dorin Dickerson heard the shouts, shrieks and screams of his Pitt Panthers teammates. How could he not? They echoed through the frigid air filling and chilling Milan Puskar Stadium on that astounding night nearly 15 years ago. Because so few people of the thousands gathered in this space were celebrating the occasion, though, the collective silence of West Virginia fans seemed to overwhelm the euphoria.

“The most vivid memory I have is seeing grown men crying in the stands,” Dickerson told The Sporting News. “My vivid memory is looking around and feeling this awed, surreal, shocked feeling. Like: I can’t believe we just pulled this off. And to see the effect on West Virginia fans was exhilarating because it was so real. It was surreal for a second and then it was like, ‘Whoa, we actually did this. We actually ruined their chances to go to a national championship.’ ”

The first day of December 2007 was one of the most absurd days in college football history in one of the most unusual seasons, and it included a game between most bitter rivals that ended in a most ridiculous upset that produced a most uncommon scoreline: 13-9.

That sequence of numbers still can produce joy in any Panthers fan and chills in those who follow the Mountaineers. It was a game that meant nothing to Pitt and everything to West Virginia, and for that reason it meant everything to Pitt, as well. That’s how rivalries work.

WVU was No. 2 in the country and featured a revolutionary offensive attack that was making stars of head coach Rich Rodriguez and quarterback Pat White. A week earlier, the team hung 66 points on a top-20 UConn team. Now the Mountaineers were facing 4-7 Pitt, struggling through the autumn after their starting quarterback had been lost to an opening-game injury. West Virginia entered as a 28½-point favorite and needed only to transact this minor piece of business to earn a berth in the BCS title game in New Orleans.

What the hell happened?

“I think we felt like we were going to go out in a ball of flames. Defensively, at least, we had played pretty well,” Pat Bostick told TSN. He was the freshman who took over the quarterback job after junior Bill Stull tore a thumb ligament in beating Eastern Michigan. “Our offense – and, obviously, I take responsibility for being a big part of the offense that year – when our offense kept them out of bad situations, our defense was playing better football.

“We knew what we were up against. I still think that was the best team in the country that year. It was going to take a near-perfect performance to go and win that game.”

In a lot of ways, though, Pitt wasn’t close to perfection. Bostick was intercepted on the second play of the game, and the 48-yard return set up West Virginia kicker Pat McAfee for a chip-shot field goal attempt. There were two holding penalties called against wideout Oderick Turner, one of which took a Pitt touchdown off the board and the other negating a crucial first-down conversion. Reliable placekicker Conor Lee, who had converted 93 percent of his field goal attempts inside 40 yards, gacked one from 35.

And yet there the Panthers were at the end, dashing around the field searching for hugs and high-fives to mark the occasion while so many Mountaineers fans remained at their seats, in no apparent hurry to escape the horror, perhaps too stunned to move.

“First of all, it was cold as …” Sammy D’Agostino, who has attended nearly every Pitt game for 35 years, told TSN. “Before the game, they were all crazy, and all the anti-Pitt stuff. And then as the game kept going on, and it stayed close, and then we had the lead, it was like: Oh my God. It was like they were frozen.”


Not every great rivalry ha Kentucky vs. Louisville Rivalry Shirts s a name. Some try to get by on generic lethargy like “The Game”, which is used for at least two totally unrelated series, and some are content with the identities of the participants. There are few nicknames better than “The Backyard Brawl.”

A rivalry that began 127 years ago, that has featured such greats as Tony Dorsett, Sam Huff, Mike Ditka, Major Harris, Dan Marino and Darryl Talley, that has been coached by legends Bobby Bowden, Jock Sutherland, Don Nehlen, Pop Warner, Greasy Neale and Johnny Majors – and that is branded with such a spectacular name – deserves so much better than the 10-year dormancy that will conclude with Thursday’s game at Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh.

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When Pitt joined with Syracuse in abandoning the Big East Conference for the ACC, the most intense and competitive period of the Brawl was shut down cold.

They are separated by just 75 miles, most of it covered by a straight-shot on Interstate 79. West Virginia long has drawn some of its most important players from Pittsburgh and its suburbs, including quarterbacks Harris, Marc Bulger and Rasheed Marshall, which is one reason the rivalry has become so intense for the Mountaineers. But not the only one.

Bob Hertzel was an esteemed baseball writer who covered the Big Red Machine for the Cincinnati Enquirer and then the Pirates in the 1980s and 90s for The Pittsburgh Press. He saw close-up how Pitt handled its two football rivalries: the one with Penn State before the Lions joined the Big Ten, and the one with the Mountaineers that continued until each departed the Big East. They both mattered, but Pitt-Penn State mattered more.

Then, a few years after the Press closed, Hertzel moved to Morgantown to cover the Mountaineers. He is columnist with the Times West Virginian focusing on WVU sports. “For West Virginia, as I quickly learned, it’s everything,” Hertzel told TSN.

West Virginians know there are derisive terms some Pittsburghers employ against them. In his book, The Backyard Brawl, author John Antonik cites the words “hillbillies” and “hoopies”, so don’t blame me for mentioning them. Panthers fans will acknowledge not necessarily the use of those pejoratives, but certainly the attitude of dismissal that led to their adoption. Mountaineers fans have countered with a cuss that, handily, rhymes with Pitt.

“Pitt people have a hard time admitting this, but I do think they have a grudging respect for Penn State football and what it’s accomplished. But as far as West Virginia goes, Pitt has absolutely no respect,” said historian Sam Sciullo Jr., whose books on Pitt athletics include Golden Panthers. “They look at them as a nuisance, an annoyance. And that’s not going to change.”

Thursday’s game will be the 105th between West Virginia and Pitt. If not for the 10-year gap, it would rank among the 25 most-played high-major series in the sport’s history. Pitt owns a 61-40-3 advantage, but WVU has enjoyed bragging rights since November 2011, when a fourth-quarter comeback fueled by QB Geno Smith and wideout Tavon Austin in Morgantown resulted in a 21-20 triumph. That positioned the Mountaineers to win a share of the Big East championship and a berth in the Orange Bowl. In that game, they blasted Clemson, 70-33, and finished Arizona Wildcats Jerseys with a 10-3 record and top-20 ranking.

Those are some pretty numbers, but they have not erased 13-9.

“There wasn’t any question in anybody’s mind in this entire state,” Hertzel said. “I guarantee that out of 1.9 million people in the state of West Virginia, 1.7 million of them laid the 28½ points.”


There would be no bowl game for the 2007 Pitt Panthers. There would be no winning season. There would be meager progress, even, at least of the sort that would register with the public. Inside the program, everyone could see the potential in a backfield that included freshman sensation LeSean McCoy and a developing QB in Bostick. Outside the program, they were 4-7 and on a two-game losing streak.

Coach Dave Wannstedt wanted the players to enjoy their week of preparation but also to be introduced to (or reminded of) the Brawl’s importance. Wannstedt had been an offensive tackle for the Panthers during some of their most difficult seasons, in the early 1970s, but stuck around just long enough to play tackle in front of Tony Dorsett on a 6-5-1 squad that broke a 16-year bowl drought. That team blasted the Mountaineers, 35-7, in Morgantown, and the Panthers heard that story.

Wannstedt asked the quarterback of the 1970 Panthers, Dave Havern, to address the team. “Dave was probably 5-5, 150 pounds. His nickname was ‘Mouse’. And we came back and won that game, and to this day – and Dave was a successful high school coach in Pittsburgh – when they talk about Dave Havern, the Mouse, they talk about 36-35. I tried bringing those moments to life with our players.”

All the history lessons, though, meant a good deal less than what defensive coordinator Paul Rhoades was teaching his men. Wannstedt’s custom as head coach that season was to spend the majority of his practice time with the offense and then sit in with the defensive coaches after practice and break down the day’s tape.

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“So I’m on the offensive field, and I look over at the defense, and it’s early in practice. And Paul is having them doing these tackling drills,” Wannstedt said. “And that’s good. West Virginia, the athletes they had, Steve Slaton and Pat White and everybody … About 30 minutes into practice, I look over again, and we’re doing a different type of tackling drill.

“So I walk over and I call Paul over. And I say, ‘Paul, what are we doing?’ And he says, ‘Coach, I’m watching this tape, and the more I watch, if we don’t tackle, we’ve got no chance. I don’t care who draws up the defense against West Virginia. It’s not going to matter.’ I kind of laughed to myself, and I said, ‘I’m with you. If you guys believe that, and the players believe it, let’s do it.’ I think if practice was two hours, we tackled for an hour. Not taking them to the ground, but wrapping them up. Every type of tackling drill.

"We came out of that game, and I believe the exact number was eight missed tackles. And teams would play them leading up to that and have eight missed tackles on one play."

There were two things Pitt did brilliantly in engineering this upset, and this was most important. Slaton carried 9 times for 11 yards. Freshman Noel Devine produced the same number of yards on two fewer attempts. A Heisman finalist that season, White managed 41 yards on a combination of designed runs, read options and scrambles, but on one of those jammed his thumb on the back of a teammate’s jersey and left the game for two quarters with a severe sprain. The Panthers made it clear they did not fear the arm of his replacement, Jarrett Brown, allowing them to focus on preventing him from taking off with the ball.

Pitt ran one defensive look the entire second half, making only minor adjustments relative to the positioning of the running backs. It was about making the right reads and, above all, finishing the play.

“Our defense was going to be in situations where … it was one missed tackle away from being a house call,” Bostick told TSN. “Time after time, it was shoestring tackle in space, open-field play, turnovers caused. Absolutely, we fed off that.”

The other thing Pitt did beautifully was Bostick simply handing the ball to McCoy, who wasn’t as widely known at that point as the “Shady” who gained more than 11,000 yards in the NFL and earned two Super Bowl rings. Against the Mountaineers, he ran with ferocity and produced 148 yards on 38 carries and was principally responsible for Pitt holding a vast edge in time of possession and running a dozen more offensive plays.

“All we had was Shady,” Dickerson, then a reserve linebacker and now a sports radio host at Pittsburgh’s 93.7 The Fan, told TSN. “So as a defense, we knew we had to do our job. And we stuck to it. And we stuck to it for four quarters.”

So much of the work necessary for the Panthers to win this game, though, was done for them. McAfee, who would become a Pro Bowl punter for the Colts and later a multimedia star, missed field goal attempts of 20 and 32 yards. Both White and Brown lost “sack fumbles”, but on each of those the ball slipped out of the quarterback’s hand before he was contacted. There were three more WVU turnovers on top of those.

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And there were so many chances missed, most notably with 4:24 remaining in the game and the Mountaineers a single touchdown away from the victory necessary to secure their spot in the BCS Championship. After Brown’s fumble set up the Panthers at the WVU 17, and after two McCoy runs got them to a first-and-goal from the 6, and after three more got them to within a yard of clinching a victory, Pitt settled for a field goal that made it 13-7.

Devine returned the subsequent kickoff 48 yards, landing at the Pitt 33. On fourth-and-3, White ran a read option and spotted a gap that appeared to be sufficient for Slaton to reach the line to gain – and possibly much more. White handed Slaton the ball. Panthers All-Big East linebacker Scott McKillop noticed and dove off a block and to his left. He slammed Slaton to the turf – less than a yard short, but still short. On the sideline, Rodriguez was bewildered as to why White would make that read. But the seam was so obvious. It just didn’t last because of McKillop’s exceptional effort.

“Nothing was going right offensively,” Hertzel said. “West Virginia gained only 183 total yards! It was just a terrible offensive performance, and you had to lay it more on Rodriguez, I think, than on Pat White or McAfee or anyone else. The playcalling was awful in this game. West Virginia could have thrown the ball deep down the middle the entire game and barely even tried. RichRod had it in his mind how he was going to beat Pitt, and it was with his option offense.

“It was almost like he was determined to prove this wasn’t happening.”


The game began in a way that underscored the essence of the Backyard Brawl: with an actual brawl on the front line. On the first offensive play, as McCoy was carrying 12 yards toward the right sideline for a first down, Pitt left tackle Jeff Otah and WVU defensive end Johnny Dingle were staging a minor MMA battle. Each was flagged with a dead-ball personal foul.

“I talked to them before the game, and I said, ‘Thi College Cold Weather Shirts s is the Backyard Brawl, it’s going to be a fistfight.’ You know, everybody talks about that stuff all week,” Wannstedt said. “But I said, ‘We can’t be dumb. We’re not good enough, guys, to give these guys bad penalties and turnovers. We’ll get run out of the stadium.’ OK, coach. OK coach. Everybody agrees.

“The first play, Jeff Otah was going against a great player from West Virginia, and it was like two rams hitting each other and you could hear it on the other sideline. And they locked up and the started whaling on each other. I think six flags were thrown on the first play. The guys on the sideline started laughing at me, snickering. I said, ‘Yep, buckle it up guys. Game on.’ ”

The game ended with a play that has resonated for 15 years since, however unremarkable it might have seemed at the moment. Pitt forced another failed Mountaineers fourth-down attempt with 1:34 left, this one a bit hopeless after White faced a heavy third-down blitz, again lost his grip on the ball and was fortunate to recover and fall for a 7-yard loss. Needing 17 yards from the Pitt 28, White heaved an innocuous pass toward the end zone.

West Virginia retained only a single timeout, so Pitt was able to consume most of the remaining time through three plays that went nowhere and lining up for a punt. The ball was snapped to Dave Brytus with 4 seconds left, and there never was a doubt he would not be kicking it back to the Mountaineers.

It had not been his Texas vs. Oklahoma Rivalry Shirts greatest performance. He had averaged 36 yards on six punts. Brytus is a Western Pa kid but loves the warm weather so much he now lives in Las Vegas, where he is head of security operations for a private firm. “That was one of the coldest games I ever played in,” he told TSN.

But on his most important punt, with Pitt ahead by a single field goal early in the fourth quarter, he pinned the Mountaineers on their 3 yard line, and two plays later came Brown’s fumble.

Blue Ridge Community College clothes

And on his most important play, he was flawless. He accepted the snap at the Pitt 2, turned and trotted to the end zone, tip-toed along the back boundary and then stepped out as the clock hit 0:00. He scored two points for the opposing team, but he secured the victory and a scoreline that was anything but ordinary.

“We almost practiced that before every game. Taking a safety, a lot of people think that’s super easy, you just catch the ball and go. But there is a lot of orchestration that has to go into it,” Brytus said. “You have to really play clock management, making sure you’re looking at that clock and don’t step out of bounds too early. I remember Dave Wannstedt said, ‘Just catch the ball, whatever you do, and don’t fumble it.’ I made sure I focused on that and managed the clock as well as I could and stepped out literally at the right time without getting crushed by one of those West Virginia players.”

Brytus knew it was an essential play, but he had not considered how important it was to the legacy of the game. There have been lots of games in football history that finished 13-7, but 13-9 carries a sense of fascination.

Pitt fans still can buy t-shirts that say nothing more than: 13-9, though it’s done up in Panthers colors to prevent any confusion with some other famous 13-9 finish. There is someone driving around Pennsylvania with a vanity license plate featuring that simple numerical sequence, and there are others that say “Pitt 139” and “Pitt 13-9”. (“13-9 Pitt” is still available!)

“People have gotten me birthday gifts; I play a lot of golf, so I have golf balls with 13-9 on them,” said Bostick, who now is an associate athletic director at Pitt and does radio commentary for Panthers football. “I’ll be walking down the hall, the grocery store, and people will just yell, ‘13-9!’ I guess it’s kind of a battle cry.

“You say those numbers anywhere near a Pitt fan, and you’ll get a smile. And you’ll get the absolute opposite from a West Virginia fan.”

As the final Saturday of the college football regular season dawned 15 years ago, the No. 1 team in the nation was Missouri and the No. 1 story of the day was a report from ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit that LSU’s Les Miles “barring any unforeseen circumstances”, would be announced early the next week as the new head coach at Michigan.

So many unforeseen circumstances tore through that day, though. First, as his Tigers were in gameday preparations for the SEC Championship game against Tennessee, Miles called a press conference to emphatically deny the report.

“That’s the first time I ever went to cover an event where a college football coach threw a press conference before a game,” Ron Higgins, a columnist for LSU Rivals site TigerDetails.com, told TSN. “It was bizarre. It probably lasted about 90 seconds. Ended it with, ‘Have a nice day!’ ”

By the end of 12 outlandish hours, Mizzou had lost the Big 12 Championship game to Oklahoma, LSU handled Tennessee for the SEC title, West Virginia became the victim of that whole 13-9 deal and it became the LSU Tigers, who had been the No. 7 team in the BCS standings because of two prior defeats that occurred in overtime, who wound up opposite previously No. 3 Ohio State in the national title game.

The Pitt victory impacted not only who would enter that matchup, but a significant portion of college football history. That whole “Butterfly Effect”, but in the context of a collision sport.

If WVU had won, there is no way Rodriguez would have walked away from a championship game to take the job at Michigan. If LSU had wound up just in a basic bowl game, perhaps Miles would have made Herbstreit’s report come true by moving to coach the Florida vs. Georgia Rivalry Gear Wolverines.

Had West Virginia played Ashland Eagles Jerseys in that BCS championship, and won, it might have stabilized the future of Big East football. And WVU might have had a shot at two titles in a row. With RichRod in charge of a team that still included White and Devine, the 2008 Mountaineers could have been a contender.

Instead, Rodriguez flopped at Michigan, lasting three years and never winning more than seven games. Rodriguez wound up at Arizona and had some good years but was fired after a sexual harassment suit was filed against him. He now is head coach at Jacksonville State.

Multiple attempts to contact Rodriguez through the school’s athletic department drew no response. Whereas Pitt people all but drove to my house to discuss this game’s legacy, West Virginians were not so eager. One former WVU staff member gently declined an interview request, saying in a text, “That is absolutely my least fav Georgetown College Tigers clothes orite subject!!!”

Miles remained at LSU after a surprise win in the 2007 BCS title game, lasting another nine sea Colgate Raiders shirt sons but producing just one top-5 finish. He wound up at Kansas but won three games in two seasons. Kentucky vs. Louisville Rivalry Jerseys He left the KU job by mutual agreement in March 2021, after allegations of sexual misconduct developed from his time at LSU.

The game had an impact beyond the sport, as well. McKillop, who was named All-American the following season and spent four years in the NFL, connected through Facebook to a young WVU grad, Lauren Statler, whose family included some of the university’s most significant donors. It was a bold move from the player who told reporters, in advance of the 2007 game, “I —– hate West Virginia. I can’t stand the state. I just don’t like the university.”

McKillop now is married to Lauren and moved to the Charleston area several years back, right in the middle of “enemy territory,” so to speak, where he is a sales representative for a medical technology company.

“I never thought in a million years that I would be down here for as long as I have been,” McKillop told TSN. “When people first meet me down here, who are Mountaineer fans, they’re like, ‘F- you.’ And after a while, I break down their wall and they wind up saying: You know what? I never thought I’d like someone from Pitt. I’ve had people tell me I ruined their year. I ruined their vacation. I’m like: Geez, there were 21 other people on that field. It wasn’t just me.”

LeSean McCoy

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Certainly he helped to ruin their night. And their season. And their dream. That’s a lot. But he played a significant part in rescuing a Pitt season that was lost and a program that needed something to celebrate, something to make Panthers fans and the players believe the program had a future and not just a glorious past. Pitt contended for Big East titles the next three seasons and went 27-12, winning two bowl games.

And they enjoyed that night like no other. Wannstedt remembers the coaching staff hitting a South Side bar and hanging around well after closing time. Brytus recalls how wonderful it was to have his whole family in Morgantown to see it. “It didn’t matter how bad our season was,” he said, “it was like winning a national championship.” Bostick has the best celebration story of all.

For those who’ve driven at night toward Downtown Pittsburgh from its airport  — or, for that matter, from the city of Morgantown – know that vehicles approach through the Fort Pitt tunnel and then emerge to see the Point, the confluence of the three rivers, the sparkling lights in the hotels and office buildings. It’s a spectacular view, often described as being like the only city that has a front door.

“I’ll never forget the ride coming back, coming through the tunnel, we were singing the John Denver song as opposed to listening to it,” Bostick said. “It was kind of funny.”

Sacrilege, is what Mountaineers would call it. It is tradition to play the record, “Country Roads, Take Me Home” in Milan Puskar Stadium after every West Virginia win, with the fans singing along in delight.

This, instead, was a quiet night. For some.

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