Stephen Fastuca gallivanted around the tailgate grounds surrounding Beaver Stadium dressed head-to-toe in Penn State attire. He wore blue and white suede dress shoes and Penn State-colored pants, topping his outfit off with a giant Penn State belt buckle on his waist and a Nittany Lions fedora on his head.
Aside from showcasing immense support for his team at the Sept. 9 game, Fastuca, a Penn State graduate from 1982, said he supports the Pitt-Penn State rivalry in particular.
“It was the best. It never should have left. This is the first time Pitt has played here since 1999 and that’s a shame. If Pitt wins, it would crush me,” he said before witnessing the 33-14 Penn State victory. “But, I’d wake up the next morning and move on because I appreciate it is a great rivalry.”
Penn State’s campus was full of fans flying flags from both schools on Saturday, there to see the Panthers play the Nittany Lions at State College. Tailgates spanned from the parking lots to the Bryce Jordan Center, the home of Penn State basketball. Most tailgaters eventually made their way into Beaver Stadium to add to a crowd of 109,898 — the most attendees to see a game at the field since 2009.
In that crowd were alumni from both schools, such as 1988 Pitt grad Brian Knupp. He said the Pitt-Penn State rivalry has lost some of its intensity because of the hiatus between 2000 and 2016 — when scheduling conflicts prevented the teams from playing each other.
“I think [the rivalry] was stronger back then because they played every year, and Pitt was a lot better,” Knupp said. “I grew up loving Tony Dorsett, Dan Marino and the great defenses at Pitt, and Penn State during the Paterno era was always against us and it was great.”
Decked out in Nittany blue and white, Kevin Rodgers, a 1980 Penn State graduate, sat with Knupp in a bar to watch the game. He and Knupp attended the opposing schools during the height of the rivalry, when both schools had premier programs and the matchup was a yearly event. They became friends later through work.
Pitt and Penn State split the series 2-2 during Rodgers’ time at Penn State between 1977 and 1980. They did the same during Knupp’s time at Pitt between 1985 and 1988.
“[The rivalry] was the best back then, but it is still big,” Rogers said.
Finding a place to watch the game on campus proved difficult. Every bar nearby was at standing-room only capacity, many with a line going out the door. One of these bars was the Rathskeller, where Joe Barbuti, a 1999 Penn State grad, frequently watches his alma mater play.
“I’ve been to Rathskeller the last four years for the games, and this is as packed as it’s ever been,” Barbuti said.
After joining the Big Ten conference, Penn State now plays powerhouse teams such as Michigan and Ohio State. But even though he thinks the rivalry is past its peak, Rodgers puts Pitt above Big Ten contenders on the list of Penn State’s rivals.
“Pitt just matters more,” Rodgers said. “I hate Big Ten. I don’t care about Iowa, Indiana or Maryland. I’d rather play Pitt or West Virginia.”
Though Penn State head coach James Franklin said the win was no big deal in his post game press conference, fans on both sides seemed to disagree.
Among those who disagreed with Franklin was Tyler Williams, a senior management information systems major at Penn State, who said competition within the Big Ten holds less weight than the Pitt-Penn State rivalry.
“It is above Ohio State level. We haven’t played Pitt in so long and we’re itching for that win,” Williams said before watching the game.
Even though both fanbases clearly support their own teams, Williams feels a certain camaraderie for the Pitt side.
“It’s like a sibling rivalry. We hate each other when we’re playing each other, but when it comes down to it, we like each other more than other schools,” Williams said.
Some undergrads said the hiatus between 2000 and 2016 helped bring life back to the rivalry. Williams agreed, but he said he isn’t looking forward to another break anytime soon.
“The break really added to the feel of this rivalry, but I just really wish they would continue it,” he said.
Williams’ wish won’t be granted, as Pitt and Penn State have no plans to play each other after the current four game series ends in 2019. Penn State sophomore biology major Sonia Donskaya, like Williams, is against putting another pause on the Panthers and Lions’ personal competition.
“We can’t stop playing Pitt. That sucks. This is a really important rivalry,” Donskaya said. “It’s important to have one team lose and one team win. Rivalries are what make winning and losing beautiful.”