The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

October 29, 2012

Pitt relishes opportunity vs. Irish


PITTSBURGH — Pitt’s momentum is on the rise after the Panthers defeated Temple, 41-17, on Saturday for its second two-game win streak of the season and the team’s first Big East Conference win.

Keeping that momentum going will be a difficult task.

Pitt (4-4) travels to Notre Dame where it faces an undefeated team in the national championship hunt for the first time in nearly 20 years. The Irish (8-0) are ranked third in the latest BCS standings following a 30-13 victory at Oklahoma.

It hasn’t been that long since an underdog Pitt team spoiled another team’s national championship hopes. In 2007, the Panthers beat No. 2 West Virginia, 13-9. Pitt was a 28-point underdog.

At Monday’s weekly press conference, Pitt coach Paul Chryst said this week’s game focus is not on being a spoiler.

“It’s not about knocking them off to ruin their season. It has nothing to do with that,” Chryst said. “To me, it’s an opportunity to go out and beat a great team. Every week you want to go win, and this week’s no different. The challenges that they present, you prepare for them.”

Pitt has won three of the last six games it’s played against top-five teams. Chryst does hope the Panthers can add another win to this, but regardless of Nore Dame’s ranking, Chryst says nothing changes in terms of preparation.

“I don’t think that’s the way to go about it,” he said. “Others may disagree, but I think you approach every game consistently. What it takes to beat Notre Dame is the same things as it takes to beat other people on your schedule. That’s playing football, playing the best you can, taking advantages of opportunities that come your way, not shooting yourself in the foot. But when you get an opportunity to play a good team like this, that’s special. You’re not going to minimize that either.”

Both Pitt and Notre Dame are schools that boast a proud history including Heisman Trophy winners and national championship teams.

That being said, it’s Notre Dame. That makes it special, especially playing at Notre Dame.

Thousands of people attend Friday night pep rallies for the Irish. There is the Midnight Drummer Circle, a show that features members of the Notre Dame marching band.

But the most famous Notre Dame monument is located right outside of Notre Dame Stadium. This is the “Word of Life” mural, also known as “Touchdown Jesus.” The wall painting is hung on the outside of the Hesburgh Library where it overlooks the stadium. It depicts Jesus with his arms raised in a similar manner of a referee signaling a touchdown.

“I do get caught up in traditions of football,” Chryst said. “That’s one of those places. There’s some great history there. It’s different, but it’s just like we have great history.”

Although Pitt’s football traditions are not as well-known as Notre Dame’s, they are still celebrated.

After every football win, the university’s Cathedral of Learning displays its gold victory lights on the highest floors of the building. Much of the city can see the lights reflect off of the historic structure, which is also the second tallest educational building in the world.

A relatively new Pitt tradition that has caught fire in the last five years is the singing of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.” This event happens at the end of the game’s third quarter. Fans put their arms around each other’s shoulders, singing, “Let’s go Pitt” during the instrumental part of the chorus.

But ironically, the tradition took off when Pitt played at Notre Dame Stadium on November 1, 2008. This game was the first time the Pitt band played “Sweet Caroline” on the road. In the fourth quarter, the Panthers trailed the Irish but rallied for a comeback to force the game into overtime. Pitt ended up defeating the Irish in the longest game in Notre Dame Stadium history.

And from there, “Sweet Caroline” turned into a must-play song at every Pitt game.

The Pitt-Notre Dame series has been a tradition in itself, dating all the way back to 1909. In fact, the Panthers are the Irish’s fifth most-played football opponent.

“It’s a game you’re thankful you get to play,” Chryst said. “I appreciate the history of it with Pitt and Notre Dame.

“That’s the neat thing about Pitt. They’re part of some great series, and we get to play this one this year.”