John Antonik was on The Josh Copen Show this morning plugging his new book, The Backyard Brawl: Some Long and Drawn Out Subtitle. In this conversation, the two discussed the history between the game and the future status of the rivalry along with others like Virginia Tech. Copen thought that it really depends on when you grew up on how you view the hatred between Pitt and VT. This raises an excellent point to an internal debate (and sometimes social debate relative to the environment and amount of beverages previously consumed) of which school I hate the most. I grew up in the time of Tyler Palko, Mike Vick, Mark Bulger, Amos Zereoue, Avon Cobourne. Although I grew up in a household where the father told his children "Montani Semper Liberi" translated into "Eat Shit Pitt", there was always a high anticipation to play Virginia Tech. Even my sister who despises sports hates the Hokies. Why? Because they are much easier to hate. Let me count the reasons....
1. Decidedly better football program than Pittsburgh in last 25 years
Before you go and throw the pictures of Panther national championships, I would like to point out that all of them are black and white. They have only been a conference champion twice in the last two decades and neither of those were outright. Hokies? Seven times including three while still in the Big East. One of those years included a Sugar Bowl National Championship appearance (in which I still need to send a Thank You card to Chris Weinke.)
Not convinced? Virginia Tech has finished in the AP poll 16 times in the last quarter of a century. Pitt: four. Head to head? Hokies lead 7-4. Any way you slice it, VT has been a better team to play thus higher national exposure and better hype build up to games.
2. Better Villains
You always hear the debate over whether this comic book villain is better than the rest or the "most badass villain in film" top ten lists. There is absolutely no question that the Hokies soooo much better in this regard. Of the major sports scandals in the last few years, certain buzz words come to mind: Sandusky, Tiger Woods, Tim Donaghy, Spygate, dogfighting. Dogfighting. That one sticks out like the herp you got from Ron Mexico.
Michael Vick is the former holder of the title "Most Polarizing Figure in America" in which he passed that off to the noted golf enthusiast Mr. Woods. The worst part was that the story sprang in April 2007 and convictions in August thus demonstrating a summer full of baseball and Michael Vick talk on ESPN. This pretty much means that every 24/7 sports fan hated him not only for the things he did, but just the mention of his name by July. That isn't even including the non-sports people/animal lovers. Humane Society, PETA, you name it wanted his head. WVU fans had no problem greeting everyone jumping on the "I Hate Vick" bandwagon that we had already established after the 1999 drive. In case you haven't heard, his brother is a real peach, too.
Another phrase that makes you want to take an ice pick to the ear drum: Beamerball. Frank Beamer is the self-appointed Pope of Blacksburg and God of special teams. You honestly can't watch a VT game without hearing Beamerball. His reign over the Hokies and smug face has really no comparable figure in Pittsburgh. Sure, Wannstache was a figure that we loved to laugh at, but he didn't demand respect and didn't last long. He didn't last nearly long enough to hate him consistently. Beamer has been through his battles in Morgantown and come out on top his fair share. Wanny may have the big win in 2007, but that one sucked because you knew WVU was a better team with better coaching. Beamer would win and make you feel like VT was just better than you.... which leads to reason # 3.
3. Social Tension
"Go to Hell, you pompous pricks," seems to be the overall sentiment concerning any type of rival just because our whole state has a inferiority complex. This can't be said more when it comes to the Hokies. Not even diving into the historical events between the colony of Virginia and the separation in 1863, but Virginia is in our name. We're west of Virginia. People ask how far we are away from Richmond. Some have no idea West Virginia is a state.
Not only that, but Virginia and Pennsylvania boast some of the richest American history figures, locations, and ideals. We grow up hearing names like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson. Since your first years learning about the Revolution, you get that feeling of they are better than us. And Virginia Tech lets you know it. They preach the same kind of "holier than thou" scripture that is rivaled only by Penn State. They run out of the tunnel with an American flag and sit on a big, fat endowment while calling you hillbillies. "Go back to your trailer park." "Don't you have a date with your sister?" This kind of stuff doesn't really get to you from anyone else... but it is personal when they are wearing maroon. You know you come from the same blood. The same land. The same hills. Southern West Virginia is exactly the same has western Virginia. Yet, Virginia Tech is a pretty damn good school. It's very expensive. WVU holds its own but is almost never on the same polls academically. Chances are, if you are wearing gold, you don't go back to the same kind of house that a Hokie does. West Virginia is far poorer than Virginia. They know it. You know it. Pitt fans make fun of you because they just want to be a jackass. Tech fans make fun of you because they want to inflict harm. They care. It doesn't resonate as much with Panther fans just because they hail from a city that gets on polls like this and the fact that you know they really couldn't give a shit less about you or Pitt to be absolutely honest.
This one doesn't have as much facts, but you're going to have to take my word for it. The Virginia Tech fan base is larger and much more loyal than Pittsburgh's. That's just an absolute fact and the evidence is shown every Saturday. Lane Stadium is a monster and I'll admit it... it's awesome. They love football. We love football. The atmosphere isn't even close to Heinz Field. Pitt doesn't even have it's own god damn field. They play in the Steelers' stadium which speaks volumes. Pittsburgh is a Steeler town and the Penguins come in second. I'd even say, with this summer, the Pirates are more of an attraction than the Panthers.
I know this from my own personal accounts. Had a girlfriend once from Pittsburgh. Went to Oakland Catholic for high school. I mean, the absolute heart of 412. All her friends went to Pitt and she decided to go to WVU. When they would come down to tailgate for games, they really didn't care. They just wanted to get drunk and have something to do that didn't involve their families on Black Friday. After the game, it wasn't even fun to rib on them. Can you imagine that kind of scenario with a Virginia Tech fan?
The evidence is all around you. From Occupy Heinz Field to Todd Graham leaving via text message, Pitt isn't a big program anymore which takes a lot of the fun out of hating them. They don't even have any real traditions. Don't even think about saying Sweet Caroline. That's a Boston thing.
4 1/2. A God Damn Trophy
The Backyard Brawl is a cool name, but it doesn't get close to how cool the Black Diamond Trophy is. Sad thing is that it hasn't been on showcase since the rise of Web 2.0 so there aren't a lot of HD pictures taken of it. For all the reasons above, I want it back.