To introduce myself, I’m a recent Pitt grad, and a former Oakland Zoo VP. I was involved with bringing the Panther Pitt back as well, and ran both the Zoo and Panther Pitt twitters for a while. I’ve been pretty active on Pitt twitter for a long time now, and thought this would be a great way to share some thoughts on Pitt sports in general.
With the bye week, I figured I’d post about my first away trip game to the University of Virginia last weekend, and give you some thoughts on my experiences.
The route I took Friday night had a brief stint through Maryland, down West Virginia and finally into Virginia. The ride down was very nice, despite the rain storm. I stayed in a rented house for the weekend a few miles from campus.
Mid-Saturday the group I was with made the trip over to campus at a Budget Inn where a large number of Pitt fans were staying and tailgating. I know Pitt likes to say its city is the campus, but you immediately knew when you entered the UVA campus. Small details like having the UVA athletics logo spray painted every 30 feet on the streets were a very nice touch. It was very different for someone like me who has spent the last 6 years living in Oakland. Much more green-space, trees, and the buildings were much more spread out. UVA offered several free parking lots for fans coming in for the game near the basketball stadium. The UVA football practice facility is also right in the middle of campus, and could easily by watched by anyone around for a practice.
The parking lot where we were tailgating was right next to an open field where students were playing catch and what not. Those familiar with the fields behind the Cost Center, it was a similar set up. We were treated to the UVA band practicing for most of the tailgate. They had a few of their breaks interrupted by "Let’s Go Pitt" chants and some flag waving.
Pitt fans waving flags at the UVA band (photo cred Jeff Ferruzza )
At around 6:15, we decided to head over to the game. One of our group was slightly inebriated and needed to stop a few times along the way. Luckily, this actually gave us a great chance to interact with some UVA fans. They were extremely friendly, and we discussed our predictions for the game. They were surprised to find Pitt had as unconfident a fan base as theirs, if not more. We are indeed a downtrodden bunch. The walk the rest of the way was a nice stone path between the UVA Engineering buildings. The stadium comes into view once you get to the end. It was about a mile and a half walk from where our tailgate near the basketball stadium was. The security simply scanned your ticket. If you didn't have a bag they didn't check you at all. It was odd compared to Heinz who has become extremely strict.
The picture below is what you saw when you walked out onto the lower level walk way. The student section is partly the grassy knoll you see, along with some of the bleacher seats. A UVA student described that while the grass section looks nice, it’s very annoying to stand there. It’s at a slight incline, and in any bad weather it becomes a slip and slide.
This was how the stadium looking during the game..
I should explain I have only ever seen a college football game at Heinz Field. Pretty much every home game the last 6 years I was there. There’s been some great atmospheres like Notre Dame and Cincinnati in ’09, or Notre Dame last year. I was very surprised this game versus UVA is now high on that list. I can now understand what people are talking about pining for an on campus stadium. It was bleacher seating, and fans were packed tight where people had showed (stadium was probably about 70% full out of the roughly 61,000 capacity). It became very clear that UVA football was loved, and people were going to have fun with this game. Their band was a little less vanilla than ours, and the football intro video was probably one of the strangest I’ve ever seen featuring Roc being chased by a Cavalier through several 1930’s era movies.
The music during the game was on point, and came at the right times. The crowd stood up and cheered on EVERY third down on defense. Yes, every third down. I’ve begged Pitt fans to come anywhere close to this at Heinz. It had an effect at the very least on TJ Clemmings who false started far too many times. With one exception, their fans were never crude or made us feel uncomfortable. With the one exception, we had several UVA fans apologize for the rude fan’s behavior. The stadium tried to give every advantage to UVA. When Pitt was facing the student section, they played an epileptic flashing video that said get loud. It was legitimately blinding, and they only did it when Pitt was facing it. I had no problem with this though, because that’s what should be done at home for your team. Give them every advantage. They played a video during the fourth quarter as a pump up to get the fans back in the game. Scenes from Miracle, Rocky, etc. to get fans cheering and on their feet midway through the fourth. As @cjregan99 on twitter reminded me, UVA fans even did a little song after every score. I tweeted this, but UVA also offers a semester’s tuition as a prize to a student in the student section during the game. One student is selected each game, and the student has to be present at the game during the fourth quarter to receive it. A lot of these small but smart and well executed ideas definitely make a difference.
When Pitt started to make a run, we started some Pitt chants and were soon drowned out by the UVA fans. You guys know the rest of the game. The walk back took a while with the amount of people leaving the stadium, and even after we commiserated at a post-game tailgate, there was still quite a bit of traffic leaving the campus.
While I’ve praised UVA’s campus and atmosphere, there is a lot of things that still were negative. The stadium food was horrendous. There was no selection, and terrible quality. The bench seating, while intimate, was not fun to sit on for the whole game. Walk from the parking lot to the stadium (which again, the parking lot was right next to the basketball stadium, on campus) was far. Despite it being on campus, I’d actually say it was only a few minutes shorter getting back to our car and on the way home than it would for it a Pitt game. The idea of that traffic in Oakland makes me shiver. Heinz Field definitely feels more "big time" than UVA’s does, but each of us has our own likes and dislikes about Heinz.
Overall, the trip was a lot of fun despite the result, and would recommend anyone make the trip when Pitt heads down there in two years. As for next year, I'm eyeing Virginia Tech for a weekend trip, and perhaps up to Akron to for a day drive. What other venues have you seen Pitt play at that you would recommend?