In a little over a month the University of Pittsburgh will join the ACC, along with their former Big East mates Syracuse and Notre Dame in Phase One of John Swofford's plan for worldwide basketball domination (with palatable football thrown in). Here at Blogger So Dear, it behooves us to get to know our new neighbors and live up to our reputed "Southern Hospitality." This week, we are chatting with Anson Whaley from Cardiac Hill, the marvelous Pitt community on SB Nation.
I am personally giddy about this, since Yours Truly loves him some Pittsburgh. From the Steelers to PNC Park, to the PPG building to Primanti Brothers, I love the Steel City. So let's get started!
Mundy: First things first- what is the correct spelling and definition for the word, "Yinz?"
Whaley: You've got the spelling right on "yinz." As far as an accurate definition goes, it's used to when talking to a group of people (i.e. Are yinz going to the game?). A few things here, though:
Yinz is a word used by older folk around here. I don't know many younger people here that use it with any regularity. Other parts of Pennsylvania have strange adaptations of this. I'm originally from the Northcentral part of the state, where some older folks there will say, "youins" (pronounced you-ins). Don't judge us.
It should be noted that Pittsburghers can be referred to as "yinzers." And hardcore/older Pittsburghers will often follow up sentences with "yinz" in them with 'n'at' (i.e. Are yinz going to the game n'at?). N'at can mean a variety of things but the easiest way to put it is that it means something like 'and everything' or 'and such.'
Here's a good link to Pittsburghese language.
(And for the record, I'm pretty sure I've never uttered the word "yinz.")
Mundy: What was the reaction of the Panther fan base when news of your defection to the ACC came down? With the fate of the Big East in question at the time, was it one of sadness or relief?
Whaley: Pitt fans were definitely relieved at joining the ACC. I never envisioned Pitt would be left on the outside looking in - the school has a historically good football program, a current top 25 basketball program, has fared well in other sports such as baseball and wrestling recently, is in a nice-sized TV market, and has a solid academic reputation. But many fans were still worried that when things eventually 'shook out,' that the school may have been left behind. I wasn't in that camp, but it was still a relief to know that Pitt had a home.
The ACC and B1G were always widely discussed among fans as 'perfect fits,' and to me, the ACC makes a world of sense. An added bonus is that Pitt will get to renew some old rivalries with former Big East teams Syracuse, Boston College, Miami, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, and eventually, Louisville.
Mundy: One of the most fun football games of the year for me over the years was the Backyard Brawl. I know it's not a conference game, but can't you guys work something out with the Mountaineers?
Whaley: For now, anyway, Pitt doesn't seem to have a strong desire to want to play West Virginia. Their stance of 'anybody but West Virginia' can also be evidenced by the lack of desire to even play in basketball, which, considering the number of non-conference games, could be arranged if they really wanted.
In football, the focus has been ensuring Notre Dame remains on the football schedule and renewing a rivalry with Penn State. Both of those things have happened recently, but there's still not been much of a desire to play West Virginia by Pitt's AD, Steve Pederson. Most recently, I briefly wrote about it here.
Pitt's administration has desired a game with Penn State far more than West Virginia. And while the Mountaineers are certainly a bigger rival than Notre Dame, Pitt hasn't seemed interested in giving up a potential game against the Irish in lieu of one for West Virginia. For better or worse, Notre Dame means big time, big stage, national focus. West Virginia means heated rivalry, but very regionalized. Even the Pinstripe Bowl had a chance for a WVU-Pitt matchup, but passed on it. The administration seems to prefer the former. The whole ACC scheduling thing with Notre Dame has superseded some of Pitt's future arrangements in playing them so I'm not sure how things will work out in terms of future games. But given the choice, I get the feeling that the university would much rather play them over West Virginia.
So between Penn State, Notre Dame and a cream puff or two, there's not much room for the Mountaineers based on Pitt's current priority. Seem silly? Yeah, maybe a little. But I also understand their position of 'you can't play everybody,' and I don't see Pitt loading up on all three of those teams in one given year. At least not until the football program gets a little better.
Mundy: Give us three Panthers to look for this coming football season. Who are your key players?
Whaley: For Pitt this year, it all starts with Arizona transfer Tom Savage at quarterback. The Panthers are breaking a new one in for the first time in three years with the departure of senior Tino Sunseri and Savage is the expected starter at this point.
Then there's junior Isaac Bennett at running back. Pitt lost its expected starter, Rushel Shell, who transferred to UCLA. All eyes are now on Bennett, who has shown the ability to break some big runs in practices, but is still pretty unproven. And as much as head coach Paul Chryst likes to run the ball, Bennett will be a big part of Pitt's success (or lack thereof) this year.
A third would be defensive lineman Aaron Donald. Donald is expected to be an NFL Draft pick next year when he graduates and tested the waters this season after his junior year. He's drawn more attention on the line and may not get quite as much pressure on opposing quarterbacks as he used to, but is still a monster that can cause havoc. The rest of the line is considered mediocre so Pitt needs to get a lot out of him to avoid giving quarterbacks too much time.
Mundy: Pitt fans have an unbelievable home schedule to look forward to, including Florida State, Notre Dame, North Carolina and Miami plus games at Virginia, Duke and Georgia Tech. Other than the nationally televised initiation ceremony against the 'Noles, who are you most looking forward to playing?
Whaley: I think it depends on how the team fares during the season. The Miami game is the last one of the year and if Pitt magically competes in the ACC this season, that would be the biggest one. It would be interesting to see how the Hurricanes respond at what could be a very cold-weather game at Heinz Field.
But if Pitt isn't a contender in the division, for me it's probably the Notre Dame game. Miami will be fun, but they really had too much speed for the Panthers historically. I think that is still the case, so that will be a very difficult game to win. Pitt, though, showed last year that even an elite Notre Dame team can be beaten when they play well. I'm not predicting a Pitt win, but playing the Irish at home is always something to look forward to.
Mundy: So tell us: do you guys travel well? What I mean by that is, "Will you be bringing your marvelous tailgate cuisine to Winston-Salem when the Deacs show up on your schedule?"
Whaley: Is this a trick question? No, Pitt historically doesn't travel real well for football. They generally have fans at Notre Dame and will bring a crowd in the future to the Penn State games. And in basketball, there's usually a decent contingent to drivable road games like West Virginia (in the past) and Georgetown. But while there are some diehards that travel for football, there aren't a lot.
And that's especially true when it comes to bowl games - Pitt just doesn't travel all that well for those. The last few years can't be used as a true indicator since Pitt went to the BBVA Compass Bowl three straight years (no really, we did) - and no one wants to go to the same place that many times unless it's a great destination. But Pitt still only distributed a few thousand tickets each of the past two years. And that 'distributed' amount is believed to have included comp tickets, so yeah.
There may be a few more road trips this year, though. I think the move to the ACC will energize a lot of fans for at least the first couple of seasons. So you may see a few Tony Dorsett and Dan Marino jerseys down there this year. Just don't expect us to show up in droves - we've got to be home for Stillers games on Sundays n'at.
Mundy: Finally, give us some fast facts about the University of Pittsburgh. Who are your legends (like Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan, Deion Sanders, etc.), what are your traditions? Inquiring minds want to know!
Whaley: The two biggies when it comes to sports are Tony Dorsett and Dan Marino. Okay, let's make it three since I can't leave Mike Ditka out. Don't speak badly of them. Ever. More recently, though, Pitt has produced some incredible NFL players - most notably, Lesean McCoy, Larry Fitzgerald and Darrelle Revis. In basketball, there aren't many, and Charles Smith is probably the biggest there - third overall selection in the 1988 NBA Draft. But recently, Pitt has placed some more players in the NBA - DeJuan Blair, Aaron Gray and Sam Young. And Steven Adams, leaving after his freshman year this season, is expected to be a first-round pick in the 2013 draft.
Outside of sports, Jonas Salk. The guy who cured polio. As you'll soon discover from our commercials during ACC games, we love us some Jonas Salk, y'all.
Traditions? Let's see. In football, there's the ridiculously annoying Sweet Caroline, which is played in-between the third and fourth quarters of football games. That, for some reason, fires the crowd up but is also used as an exit point for some students who are bored during the game.
Also, for years, the fight song has a line that is supposed to be V-I-C-T-O-R-Y, but was replaced with P-E-N-N-S-T-SUCKS. Confused? Here's the audio. As you can imagine, this would thoroughly confuse opposing teams playing on the road. And it also brought much angst from the administration who did everything they could to stop fans from saying that. Eventually, they realized it was too far gone and had to remove that line from the song entirely.
Another thing sure to confuse ACC fans when they travel up to our neck of the woods is our game-day attire. While y'all are known for dressing up to the occasion, you'll see mostly t-shirts and jeans (or shorts, if it allows for it) in warmer weather here. Maybe a polo shirt and jeans, too. Also, don't be alarmed if you run into any number of folk wearing Steelers gear. It happens.
Pray for us.
Special thanks to Anson for taking the time to chat with us. You can follow him on Twitter at @AnsonWhaley and @PittPantherBlog. Cardiac Hill is an excellent site with quality content, so if you're a Pittsburgh fan looking for a good source of Panther info, make sure to drop on by the Hill.