Bruce Bannon, a former All-American Penn State linebacker, said the revival of the Penn State-Pittsburgh rivalry could draw some big Pennsylvania recruits.
“There’s so many guys from Pennsylvania high schools that choose Pitt or Penn State, so I think it’s wonderful that they’re renewing it,” Bannon said. “Besides being in the Big Ten and competing for the championship, the ability to play against guys you played against in high school... I think it’s a great rivalry and it’s a really good thing.”
In 2016, Penn State will play Pitt for the first time since 2000. The deal between the Nittany Lions and the Panthers has been extended until 2019. The two schools used to have a regular rivalry game before 1993.
Penn State has played Pitt 96 times — more than any other opponent — and holds a 48-42-4 record against the Panthers. Former coach Joe Paterno held a 23-7-1 record against Pitt before the NCAA’s sanctions vacated his wins after 1997.
Coach Bill O’Brien had talked about bringing Pitt back into the mix since he first arrived at Penn State.
“Regional rivalries in college football are special,” the coach said in a press release. “I have been involved in a few as a coach. Penn State versus Pitt is a rivalry rich with history and tradition. We have a great deal of respect for Paul Chryst and the Pitt Panther football program and we are looking forward to competing against them on the gridiron.”
Pitt Athletic Director Steve Pederson said the extension of their agreement is special.
“It would be hard to find a college football fan anywhere who is not excited about this announcement,” he said in a press release.
Bill Cherpak was an offensive guard at Pitt from 1985-1989. As the football coach of Thomas Jefferson High School in Jefferson Hills, Pa., Cherpak’s record is 109-9 since 2004. He’s also won three state championships and four WPIAL championships in that span.
Cherpak said Penn State and Pitt have attracted different high school players of late, so it shouldn’t affect their competitive edge on the recruiting front.
He recalls the Pitt game against Penn State as always being “the biggest game of the year.”
“We won two and [Penn State] won two when I was there,” he said.
“Heck of a lot better than playing Youngstown State or one of those programs.”
Bannon, who went to high school in New Jersey, said he didn’t know how serious the rivalry game was until he came to Penn State.
“Maybe not as big as Ohio State and Michigan, but somewhere in that same area,” Bannon said. “I always thought it was kind of fun, friendly. There were people who were really psyched up for it, but I don’t think it was really negative at all.”
Mickey Shuler, Sr., who played tight end for Penn State from 1975-1979, echoed those sentiments. Shuler played in Beaver Stadium when it was nearly half the capacity it is today, so he said he’s looking forward to watching a Penn State home game against Pitt in 2017.
“I think it keeps some interest in the games and it gives people something to talk about,” Shuler said. “I think those kind of games are important.”
Bannon added Paterno had the players take a “pragmatic” approach to the Pitt game each season. Bannon said he and his teammates got psyched, but never too psyched.
Shuler said the in-state rivalry will certainly add some energy to the contest.
“You want to be the best team in that state,” Shuler said. “Temple wasn’t giving us any real trouble during that time.”