Last night, I committed the crime that would land me in sports fan prison (state, not white-collar federal). I left early.
With 1:11 left and the Panthers down six, I left my parents' house where I was watching the game with my Dad to meet my friends at a bar.
As I was walking out the door my dad held up five fingers to signal the Panthers had cut the lead, I shrugged my shoulders in disgust that we were going to lose to WVU again and walked out the door.
After driving five blocks, I got a call from my Dad: “They tied it.”
Since my friends had been waiting a long time for me (damn 9 p.m. start), I kept driving to meet them at the bar where for three overtimes, my psychosis was a source of amusement for the patrons of Croxley’s Ale House.
I was like an animal at the zoo, people would stare at me with a confused curiosity before looking at the TV and casually saying “oh wow, triple overtime” as if they were reading a sign with some fun fact about polar bears.
Such is the life of an out of market fan. Let’s get to the reasons why the Panthers had me making an ass out of myself in public.
1) The David vs. Goliath factor : Don’t worry, I’m not going to portray Pitt as the redheaded stepchild and WVU as a basketball giant because WVU happens to be better this year. Pitt is a premier college hoops program that is incapable of playing the underdog card against anybody.
Pitt-WVU was a David vs. Goliath match up in a quite literal sense. WVU ranks 17th in average height, Pitt ranks 246th ; last night's game saw seven players 6’7” or taller play at least ten minutes. WVU had five of those seven players
WVU presented a physical match up nightmare for the Panthers. About a dozen times during regulation while Pitt was being murdered in the post and on the glass, my Dad or I would just mutter “we’re too small.” At times, it looked like a JV team playing a Varsity team the way the Mountaineers were able to frustrate Pitt with their length.
For Pitt to overcome this extreme size advantage and pull this win out is nothing shy of miraculous.
2) Trey Woodall’s Bar Mitzvah : The redshirt freshman became a man last night.
Most Pitt fans don’t remember the Rutgers game last season because it was going on at the same time as the Sun Bowl debacle, but in that game a switch went off for Brad Wanamaker.
Out of nowhere, Brad stopped looking like a scared underclassman to score 15 in 22 minutes and help Pitt squeak out a close one in Jersey.
From that point on, Brad was able to give the Panthers the solid bench minutes they were sorely lacking and in the process, taking Pitt from at top 10 team to a top 5 team.
Last night, on the biggest of stages, Trey Woodall found himself in the same position Wanamaker found himself in against Rutgers last season. Like Brad, Trey delivered.
After playing most of the game in his typical erratic fashion, the tear drop floater that Woodall (5’11”) was able to hit over Kevin Jones (6’8”) in the final minute of regulation was a thing of beauty.
Now Pitt fans should be too excited just yet; we thought Trey was ready after he went for 19 against Wichita State. But no disrespect to the Shockers, they’re not WVU.
This was the best game of Woodall’s young career, and if he can become the playmaking guard Pitt was counting on, the Panther’s could be dangerous come March.
3) The Ghosts of the Pete: As great as Pitt has been under Jamie Dixon (and Ben Howland before him), no team goes 129-11 in its home gym without a little bit of luck.
Between West Virginia’s missed free throws and Brad Wanamaker not being called out of bounds on the mad scramble that led to Ashton Gibbs’ game-tying three (more on this later); Pitt got very lucky last night.
I’m not trying to take anything away from the Panthers who held WVU below their average FG and 3-FG percentages, moved the ball well on offense (29 FGs on 23 assists) and executed well down the stretch; but WVU should have slammed the door shut on the Panthers, it seemed as if greater forces were at work.
4) Karma is a bitch: For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Backyard Brawl, there’s another force driving this rivalry aside from proximity and tradition.
Every fan base has a few idiots who get too drunk before the game and end up fighting the opposing fans or throwing things onto the field/court.
WVU probably has a few more bad apples than most schools do. Because of this, Pitt fans cast WVU fans as unwashed rednecks who have nothing else in life other than college sports and a third-grade education. A reputation that understandably leads WVU fans to resent Pitt fans.
Emotion aside, what happened nine days ago in Morgantown where Pitt assistant coach Tom Herron was hit in the eye with a coin thrown from the stands (not from the WVU student section) is inexcusable.
So to the WVU fans who are crying foul at the replays that showed Brad Wanamaker’s foot on the line, blame the guy who pissed off the basketball gods by throwing that coin, because karma is a bitch.
5) Because its the Backyard Brawl: Why wouldn’t the game be memorable? If there was one thing this rivalry has lacked, it's games that have survived the test of time.
In the last three years, that has changed. All three of the past football games between the two schools have been instant classics. On the hardwood, we have Ronald Ramon’s buzzer beater and last night’s triple-overtime thriller.
The last three years have seen this rivalry escalated to new heights, just about every match-up is memorable and to say last night was no exception would be a gross understatement. Last night was simply one of the most legendary games played in a legendary rivalry.
For posts like this with snarkier jokes, check out the The First Church of Fitzgerald.