In case you spent all day yesterday under a rock, Pitt and West Virginia announced that their rivalry, the famous "Backyard Brawl" would resume for a four-game series from 2022-25. Yes, it's seven years out, but one of the most heated rivalries in college football is coming back. I caught up with a few former Pitt players who played important roles in the Brawls of yore to get their thoughts on the series coming back, as well as their memories from the games they played against West Virginia...
- Former quarterback Pat Bostick (now Pitt's radio color commentator) played in four Backyard Brawls — 2007 (we'll get to that one later), 2008, 2009 and 2010. With the exception of the 2010 game, all were decided by four points or less.
"Just crazy atmospheres, a lot on the line, pride, the Big East was kind of resting in the balance of that game for a number of years," Bostick said.
Former linebacker Scott McKillop (now a graduate assistant for Pitt) also played four games against WVU. He remembers that walking into Mountaineer Field was always different than going to any other road stadium.
"It is very, very different," he said. "You don't want to say it, but it is a pure hatred from West Virginia fans to Pitt fans and vice versa whenever they're here and we're there. It's a pure hatred amongst Pitt players by West Virginia fans, and by Pitt fans at West Virginia players when they're at Heinz Field."
- Bostick also recalled the week leading up to the game as a special one. Former coach Dave Wannstedt used to play "Country Roads" all week during practice.
"You were so sick of hearing that song that you were hoping not to hear it again, especially if you were playing down in Morgantown," Bostick said. "Because if you hear it again, the game didn’t go the way you wanted to.
"That drive up I-79, I remember how good it felt after a win and how bad it felt after a loss. It brings back a lot of really good memories."
- For everyone I talked to, one of the biggest factors in the rivalry was how well they knew the players on the other sideline. West Virginia typically used to draw a bunch of players from Western Pennsylvania, so often this game pitted high school teammates and rivals against each other.
"It was a game that was pretty much like a state rivalry game, just because they're so close and a lot of the players that did go to West Virginia are from the state of Pennsylvania or Ohio, or relatively close," former Pitt quarterback Pete Gonzalez said. "It's a physical game, it's a brawl, it's a knock-out type of fight.
Gonzalez was a Miami native who came north to play for the Panthers, but recalled how closely everyone knew each other.
"You had guys that played at McKeesport, you had guys that played at North Hills," he said. "All the guys played in high school [together]. On the weekends, we would go down to West Virginia and party. They'd come up here to Pittsburgh and party. It was like an inter-squad type of game. You didn't want your friends to beat you. It was tough. There were some tough battles."
McKillop, too, liked playing against familiar faces.
"I just think the fact that I knew most of the players on the team," he said. "A lot of the kids on West Virginia's team were kids I played against in high school. The familiarity of the players and just being able to talk smack for whoever wins the game."
And even though the players knew each other, it wasn't always in a friendly manner.
"Just a lot of guys that knew each other and sometimes — most of the time — didn't always like each other," Bostick said. "That, to me, was what was awesome about it."
- The rivalry has had a few great moments for Pitt throughout it's history, so let's get to those. First, 4th-and-17 in 1997.
The Mountaineers came into the game 7-3, led by future NFL quarterback Marc Bulger. They led by three in triple-overtime, and Pitt faced a 4th-and-17 at the West Virginia 32-yard line.
"I remember [coach] Walt [Harris] calling me to the sidelines and we talked about what we were thinking and what he was thinking," Gonzalez, Pitt's quarterback in that game, said. "He basically said, 'Hey, go out there and execute what you see.'
"We went out there, I remember the safeties dropping, the field opening up, me throwing the ball and seeing Jake Hoffart jump about three feet in the air to catch the ball."
Gonzalez hit Hoffart for a 20-yard completion, and two plays later, hit Terry Murphy for a 12-yard pass that gave the Panthers the win.
"I think the best memory is that a bunch of guys that nobody thought could win the game came together and as a team and a senior class, we were able to do what nobody thought we could do," Gonzalez said. "We beat West Virginia in their backyard."
- OK, let's talk about 13-9. It's the final week of the 2007 season, West Virginia is No. 2 in the country and on the cusp of playing for a national championship. I'll let Bostick, then a true freshman quarterback, take it away from there.
BOSTICK: "It was nuts. I was 18 years old. To be down there, it was surreal. It was gloomy, dark. They were on the cusp of going to the national championship game. Really, what they had done with that program, and Rich Rodriguez, they were unbelievably talented. I knew we had a huge task in front of us. I just didn’t want to make a fool out of myself, playing against a team that good."
Pitt struggled to get its offense going, but, more significantly, their defense was able to shut down the Mountaineers' high-powered attack. Pitt took a 10-7 lead on a Bostick sneak with 9:48 left in the third quarter, and added a Conor Lee field goal in the fourth quarter.
BOSTICK: "As the game wore on, you start to believe more and more like you've got a chance to win it. There wasn't an empty seat in the place, it was freezing cold, it was physical, there was talk. I had never played in an environment that was that intense, and we were a 4-7 team."
With the Mountaineers unable to score, Pitt took a safety as the clock expired to etch "13-9" into Pitt lore.
BOSTICK: "At the end of the day, for that place to be quiet, to hear a pin drop, to go down the bus and once again, play "Country Roads" the whole way home, going through the Fort Pitt tunnel."
McKillop had nine tackles in the game, including a big fourth-down stop of WVU running back Steve Slaton late in the fourth quarter. He said the most memorable part of the game was celebrating in the locker room with his teammates afterwards.
MCKILLOP: "The locker room, the sense of joy and excitement that we finally came together and we finally played the game we knew we were capable of, regardless of our record. It all came together, coach Wannstedt getting the contract extension before the game and just everything during that game was perfect. It just played out the way we needed it to. Us in the locker room, just celebrating. I know after every game we sing the fight song, but truly after that game, it seemed like it was just so much more special.
"If you look up Rich Rod's press conference, he's at a loss for words and in the background you can hear us going crazy in the locker room, celebrating. Yeah, we didn't have a good season that year, but that game was our bowl game. We knew it and that's how we prepared for everything leading up to that game."
- The Brawl is also a little more complicated now for McKillop, whose wife, Lauren, is a WVU graduate and niece of prominent WVU donor Ben Statler. He said she was the first person he called after he got news that the game was back on.
"I know how serious her family is, she knows how serious my family is," he said. "That was one of the first things when we were together was the constant bickering between why Pitt's better or why West Virginia's better. I think it finally laid off, but now with the game being back on the schedule, it's going to be definitely a house divided."
The couple doesn't have children yet, but if there are little McKillops running around by 2022, Scott is going to try his hardest to have them in Pitt blue and gold for the Brawl.
"I know to the best of my ability I'm definitely going to try to raise them pro-Pitt, but I know what she'll be doing as well, though," he said. "That'll be another ongoing battle that we have."