Let’s travel back to 1987...
And we’re live from Pitt Stadium on a rainy night in October for a matchup between the unranked Pitt Panthers and the #4 Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Forecasts said it wasn’t supposed to rain until 11 pm tonight, and yet here we are. Bit of a point of contention in the early going as the two schools seem to not agree on what time this game should start. Notre Dame was ranked #16 in the preseason polls in Coach Lou Holtz’s second season, presumably off the heals of an impressive 38-37 win over a dominant 7-5 USC team and for no other reason. The Irish have shockingly lived up to their lofty expectations so far by beating three Big Ten teams not named Ohio State. Storylines for this game include Irish defensive coordinator Foge Fazio making his return to Pittsburgh after so many years with the Panthers. Pitt has won two in a row in the series, including a 10-9 win last season in South Bend.
Pitt will receive the opening kickoff. And the return is brought to the 27. Pitt is led by Quarterback Sal Genilla, but the strength of this team are the running backs, Craig Heyward and Louis Riddick. A pair of Heyward runs up the middle and Pitt has a first down. The bruising running back is already sweating profusely. You know that would make a great commercial? A big football player doing a spot for a soap. I’m going to write that idea down. Pitt’s drive stalls and they’ll punt to returner Tim Brown. Brown is annihilated after a very impressive 1 yard return, adding to his strong Heisman campaign. You know, some people say a WR can’t win the Heisman, but I don’t think you can ignore Brown’s numbers so far this season. He’s got 12 tds already. Oh, my mistake I was looking at his career numbers. I believe he has 1 this year. After picking up a first down on the ground, the Irish get the ball to Brown in space. Here is where he thrives. He makes a man miss, cuts up field and is tackled for a gain of 2. Third down. The Pitt defense holds and Pitt will get the ball back. The announcers are really harping on Genilla’s junior college background. He responds by floating a perfect pass to Bill Osborn down the sideline for a Panthers touchdown. Osborn, who also plays baseball and made a few appearances for the basketball team last season ran a perfect route. The extra point is missed and the Panthers lead 6-0. Notre Dame and Quarterback Terry Andrysiak look to answer. Andrysiak’s pass is INTERCEPTED BY GARY RICHARD! To be honest, that’s what Andrysiak gets for throwing to NOT TIM BROWN. You have to wonder when Holtz will look in the direction of Tony Rice, who just has the look of a championship quarterback.
Pitt is driving once more. One of Genilla’s completions may have hit the ground, but luckily the refs ruled it as complete and what they say goes. A run by Riddick sets up a first and goal for Pitt. The announcers mention how Notre Dame has not given up a rushing touchdown all season. A Notre Dame facemask on Riddick gives them another first at the two and a half. After stopping the first two runs, Heyward finally breaks the plane for a Panther touchdown. The two point conversion is also good, and Pitt leads 14-0 late in the first quarter. The fourteen points being the first points Notre Dame has given up in the first quarter all season. The play-by-play announcer has used the word maligned to describe Genilla at least six times this quarter, and you have to wonder if there isn’t anybody at the stadium, maybe even in the Pitt backfield, who could provide better analysis than this guy.
Notre Dame gets the ball to Brown again. He makes Richard miss and...FUMMMBBBLEE. Brown is stripped and the ball bounces into the hands of Quintin Jones of the Panthers. What a play by the Panthers secondary! Pitt with the ball again, and the announcers mention how Pittsburgh was named America’s Most Livable City in 1985, presumably off the strength of getting to watch the magnificent Mario Lemieux play hockey at the Civic Arena. Pitt has dominated the time of possession so far 16 minutes to 4 for the Irish. Panthers are inside the 5, play action fake, and Genilla walks in untouched. What a performance by Genilla today. Extra point is good and Pitt leads 21-0. What a thoroughly dominating performance by Pitt. Brown drops the ensuing kickoff but thankfully for Irish fans is able to pick the ball back up and gain a few yards before being brought down. This game is really showing Heyward to be the Heisman frontrunner.
Pitt forces a Notre Dame punt and blasts right now down the field again. First and goal from the 2 here. Touchdoooooooooooowwwwwwn Ironhead! “If we told you Pitt would up 28-0 on #4 Notre Dame, you’d want to put us in a straight jacket,” said one of the announcers. Pitt promptly misses the extra point after a procedure penalty pushed the kick back to continue to prove everyone wrong. The kickers are really struggling in this weather tonight. Well, I should say the Pitt kicker has been struggling. The ND kicker hasn’t touched the ball since the opening kick, haha. Announcers continue to say how shocked they are that Pitt lost to Temple. I am, however, not shocked at all. About that game, head coach Mike Gottfried said “we continued to shoot ourselves in the foot.” I’m sure that won’t become a common theme for the program as we move to the end of the 80s and beyond. Speaking of shooting yourself in the foot, Pitt just got a clipping penalty. “What do you think tonight’s performance is doing to Brown’s Heisman candidacy?” asks play-by-play man Jim Kelly. Color man whose name I haven’t bothered to learn responds with this is why WR don’t win the Heisman. They can’t control the game. “How about the two fumbles?” says Kelly in response. Savage. Notre Dame goes for it on 4th down and Andrysiak is crunched. He’s down. The second quarter ends with Pitt up 27.
Tony Rice is in at quarterback for the Irish. Pitt sacked Rice three times on the first drive, but after a Pitt punt, Notre Dame is moving the ball for the first time all game. A long march downfield is capped with a Rice scamper and the Irish have gotten on the board. Pitt continues to pound the ball to work the clock. A relatively uneventful third quarter ends with Pitt up 27-7, but Notre Dame is driving following a blocked punt. Notre Dame scores again and it is now 27-14.
The fourth quarter continues and Pitt is able to hold on for a 30-22 win. Heyward carries the ball a school record 42 times. Surely, when this record is eventually broken several decades from now in a home game in severe weather against an undefeated top 5 opponent from the midwest quarterbacked by a guy named Tony, Pitt will again be able to hold onto their huge first half lead as they did today. I think Pitt’s ability to kick away from Brown all game to prevent a big play in the return game really made a huge difference. Rice played well as Andrysiak’s replacement. We’ll see how long the Notre Dame starter remains out. It looked like a broken collarbone to me. I think it’ll be impossible for coach Holtz to ignore how much smoother the offense ran with Rice, but we’ll see. Notre Dame falls to 4-1 and Pitt moves to 4-2. Next up for the Irish is a matchup on the road against Air Force, while Pitt will be off next week before heading to Navy.
Hail to Pitt.