Column | Teams that live ‘rent-free’ in Pitt fans’ heads


Hannah Wilson | Staff Photographer

Pitt fans hold taunting signs during the Pitt vs. Miami game on Oct. 30 at Heinz Field.

By Alexander Ganias, Staff Writer

Pitt fans are a passionate bunch. You will usually find Pitt venues packed with the Panther faithful cheering on the royal blue and gold against a variety of different opponents. But there are certain teams that incite more energy and angst among Panther fans than others.

These teams seem to occupy a small portion of fans’ heads even when they aren’t competing on the field. Their logos make Pitt fans twitch or audibly groan when they see them, as thoughts of dread, anger or misplaced confidence start to flush through their mind.

These are the squads that — for a variety of reasons — live in Pitt’s fans’ heads, rent-free.


The Panthers are the last team to defeat Clemson in Death Valley. Then-senior kicker Chris Blewitt didn’t blow it in 2016, and kicked a 48-yard field goal to knock off the No. 2 Tigers. That win ended up being inconsequential in the long run, as Clemson still won both the ACC Title Game and the National Championship that season. That win also didn’t matter when Narduzzi and company won the Coastal division and faced those vaunted Tigers in that year’s ACC title game. Clemson won 42-10.

The orange paw print doesn’t just occupy the fans’ psyche though. Pitt’s current quarterback, redshirt senior Kenny Pickett, cited this year’s game vs. Clemson as one of the main reasons he came back for a fifth year.

The Tigers were the marquee opponent of this year’s home schedule and the Panthers beat them handily on Oct. 23 in front of 60,594 ecstatic fans. But perhaps they focused too much on winning that game, because they ended up losing the next week to Miami.

The Clemson fear extends far beyond football. Clemson men’s soccer handed Pitt two losses in the COVID-affected 2020-21 season. The first came with the ACC Trophy on the line, where Tiger sophomore forward James Brighton netted the game-winning goal in the 71st minute. The second came with the ACC’s automatic bid to the national tournament on the line, where the Panthers were shutout 2-0.

NC State

North Carolina State has consistently been a thorn in Pitt’s side ever since the Panthers joined the ACC.

Pitt baseball was riding high last season, but dropped its last seven games, three of which came at the hands of a resurgent NC State squad that swept Pitt at home. The Pack outscored the Panthers 22-12 in that series. The Panthers never bounced back, losing their next three games to Wake Forest. Nevertheless, they punched their ticket to the ACC tournament and were ready to make some noise. After downing UNC in the first game of group play, their next opponent was NC State.

The Wolfpack scored three runs to Pitt’s two, and although junior pitcher Matt Gilbertson twirled a 134-pitch gem, NCSU’s junior pitcher Reid Johnston pitched just a bit better. The Pack won and advanced to the knockout stage. Pitt’s best chance of getting to the NCAA tournament got thrown out the window.

The Pack exposed the Panthers in the 2020 football season as well. Pitt was 3-0 and coming off a victory against No. 24 Louisville, and while they played sloppily they still had the lead with a minute to go in the game. That is, until redshirt sophomore quarterback Devin Leary completed a game-winning touchdown pass as the clock expired. That kick started a four-game losing streak for Pitt.

NC State isn’t typically among the conference powerhouses in most ACC sports, so why should we worry about them? Because they can ruin Pitt’s season without any hype. Never underestimate the Pack.


The Miami football team’s brazen attitude and swagger trickles down to their loud fan base and makes them an easy target for the ire of opposing fans.

The unranked Hurricanes came into Pittsburgh on Oct. 30 and defeated the No. 17 Panthers, essentially erasing any chance of Pitt making it to the College Football Playoff. Pitt accomplished a similar feat in the same building in 2017, defeating the No. 2 Hurricanes thanks to Pickett, who was a first-year at the time, running in a late touchdown. The ‘Canes must’ve taken that personally, because the Panthers haven’t beaten them since. Pitt is 11-29-1 all time against the U, and have lost 14 of the last 16 matchups.

On a lesser scale, the volatile Pitt men’s basketball team started off the 2020-21 season strong, but faltered due to untimely losses and transfers. The final nail in the coffin was a first-round matchup against the dreaded Hurricanes, who eliminated the Panthers 79-73. When fans see Miami on the schedule, they automatically assume the worst, and they get angry. Miami has that power.

Penn State

With each of the three above teams, Pitt fans feel a mixture of anger, confidence and perhaps a little fright when told that the Tigers, Wolfpack or Hurricanes will be their next opponent.

But do you want to shock a Pitt fan? Excite them? Do you want those first three feelings to rise to astronomical heights? Tell them they’re playing one opponent — Pennsylvania State University.

Despite never being in the same conference, Pitt fans have a set hatred for their in-state rival. Remember that 2016 win over Clemson? The Panthers also defeated the Nittany Lions that year. Redshirt senior quarterback Nathan Peterman threw 11 for 15 for 91 yards and three touchdowns in the 42-39 victory, and redshirt junior James Conner dominated. He carried the ball 22 times for 118 yards with a touchdown. 

Having played each other in football 100 times, Penn State and Pitt have built a mutual disdain for one another, but their game on Sept. 14, 2019 — a Penn State win — will be the last between the two hated rivals for a while. Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour said that they would not be able to pursue a contract with Pitt until at least 2030. The two Pennsylvania schools last played in men’s basketball in November 2020 (another Penn State win), but that was only through an in-season tournament.

Despite a lack of regular matchups, two of the three biggest schools in the Keystone State won’t get off each other’s necks, and their century-long war could’ve had a big-time battle on the horizon. Gary Stokan, the CEO of the Peach Bowl and a western Pennsylvania native, had kept an eye on both schools as potential candidates for that NY6 game in Atlanta. But both schools have dropped crucial games since Stokan made that announcement, so a Pitt-PSU Peach Bowl is probably out of the works.

Even if the Panthers and the Nittany Lions won’t face off head-to-head for a while, Pitt fans will never like Penn State, and Penn State fans will never like Pitt. And they wouldn’t have it any other way.