Road to CFB: Backyard Brawl Opens College Football Season With A Bang
Leading into World War I, the world had seen a period of peace which led to an arms race and an eagerness to go to war. West Virginia and Pitt haven’t squared off on the gridiron since 2011 and the two fanbases had an eagerness to go to war.
To say there was no love lost in the Backyard Brawl might be the understatement of the century. And to say it was a good game may be the understatement of the year.
The Backyard Brawl: No Love Lost
I’ll jump straight to the chase– these two fanbases have an intense hatred that boiled over into incivility. It’s impossible to talk about the 2022 Backyard Brawl without talking about the appalling chants from both fanbases and the downright distasteful and intolerant insults hurled back and forth.
And I say that having been to many rivalries. Some of the fans’ disdain for each other was way, way past the line of a fun rivalry.
Alright, that’s out of the way. Now for the good stuff.
The revival of the Backyard Brawl was hotly anticipated all offseason; despite West Virginia coming into this game unranked, it was a pinnacle of Week 1. The grandeur and excitement surrounding the matchup could be felt from the minute you stepped out of the car.
Pitt’s student section was a third full well over two hours before kickoff. They were excited and disruptive all night long.
There was a constant battle of chants between the two teams, which made for a truly collegiate atmosphere despite Pitt playing their home games in a professional football stadium. The chants– not all vulgar and suggesting that the other fans have, uh, relations with relatives– were truly thunderous.
But when it came down to it, the fans in the stands hated each other more than the players on the field. And I mean Hate with a capital “H.”
All The Bells And Whistles
Pittsburgh knew what this game would bring to the city. The Steel City brought out the big guns as far as pregame entertainment goes, highlighted by the Pittsburgh Rib Festival. I jumped on the opportunity to grab Bad Azz BBQ, who was the 2021 Rib Festival champions (and many, many other champions).
Talk about a way to start a game day.
Speaking of game day, College GameDay was on-site for a special one-hour show from inside the stadium. Keen fans who got inside the stadium early got a chance to be up front for the special.
While Ohio State is known for their tradition of dotting the “i,” this is a tradition shared by Pittsburgh. However, it’s not quite the spectacle of Columbus’ iteration, it’s more of a chance to recognize donors and special alumni.
Just before halftime, Pitt legend and Steelers rookie Kenny Pickett, along with a few teammates, unveiled the Panthers’ 2021 ACC Championship banner. Pickett is beloved by the city of Pittsburgh and has the inside route to become one of their favorite sons.
Penn State may be the more famous school for “Sweet Caroline,” but in-state rival Pitt offers a hearty rendition heading into the fourth quarter, as well.
To top it off, this game was played in front of 70,622 fans, a record for a Pittsburgh sporting event– professional, college, or otherwise.
Backyard Brawl: #17 Pittsburgh 38, West Virginia 31
The game lived up to the hype. While both teams had their Week 1 frustrations– particularly from both QBs– the Backyard Brawl turned into a true thriller at the end.
A pair of USC transfers took the field on opposite sides: JT Daniels (West Virginia) and Kedon Slovis (Pittsburgh). Daniels looked polished, although he didn’t pop off the field, while Slovis showed playmaking ability but also a tendency to take really, really bad sacks.
The real drama began with just under four minutes left in the game. Pitt trailed 31-24 with seemingly no offensive traction and no shot at winning the game (ESPN had West Virginia’s win probability at 89%). Running back Israel Abanikanda hauled in a pass and ripped through a few tackles en route to a thrilling 24-yard TD to tie the game up.
The following possession, Daniels threw a pass to his receiver and it went right through his arms and into the lap of Pitt’s M.J. Devonshire. Devonshire proceeded to take the pick back 56 yards for the go-ahead TD.
Acrisure Stadium nearly collapsed in on itself from the eruption of the crowd.
A truly unbelievable finish.
Game Day Grades
Stadium: C-. I don’t like college football played in NFL stadiums. While the atmosphere masked the feeling of a pro stadium for the most part, I still don’t like it. As an NFL stadium, much higher. The view of the Pittsburgh skyline and the tri-river area is just incredible.
Tradition: A. This is more of a grade on the tradition of the Backyard Brawl rather than Pitt football itself. This game was first played in 1896 and ran for over 100 years. Pitt is also one of the oldest college football teams in the nation.
Atmosphere: A. It was tense, exciting, and explosive. A true hateful rivalry.
Tailgating: B. Tailgating felt like pro tailgating to me, weaved in and out of the urban streets of Pittsburgh. It wasn’t overwhelming, though I’m sure there were plenty more tents than I was able to see.
Fans: I’m afraid to give a grade here. The fans hurling truly hateful insults get an F from me; I don’t say it lightly when I say it was some of the most low-brow behavior I’ve ever seen from college football fans.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, I sat among several season ticket holders. They’ve been sitting in section 537 for 22 years running. Those fans made the game day amazing. Thank you to y’all, and that sector of the fandom deserves an A+.
Extracurriculars: B. I was really impressed with the Rib Festival and pregame festivities. However, with a typical Pitt game day, you don’t have those. Pittsburgh is a terrific city, though downtown and the cultural district are a ways away from the stadium.
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