NEW YORK — If you’re reading this, the chances are pretty good that you already know that Pitt lost the Pinstripe Bowl, 31-24, to Northwestern Wednesday afternoon. But the bowl was far from a total loss for the Panthers.
For the second consecutive season, Pitt was able to rally the fanbase around a trip to a non-traditional bowl destination and emphatically sell out the school’s ticket allotment.
The Panthers sold over 8,000 tickets to the Pinstripe Bowl, deputy athletic director Dan Bartholomae said Wednesday, and when factoring in secondary ticket sales and those purchased directly from the bowl, the university believes at least 10,000 of the 37,918 in attendance were Panthers fans, and from the look of the crowd, that number may well have been much higher. Pitt fans had an audible advantage over the Northwestern faithful, and those on the field noticed.
“I want to thank the Panther fans for coming out. They showed up big-time,” Narduzzi said. “Pregame after we came out, I think Northwestern started coming out, all I heard was, ‘Go Pitt.’ It was a Pitt crowd, that’s for sure.”
The Pinstripe Bowl and Pitt had been courting one another for quite some time, but a year ago, in similar selection circumstances, the Pinstripe Bowl took Duke instead of Pitt.
But the Panthers went to Annapolis and took over 10,000 fans to the Military Bowl instead, and that impressed those involved so much that Pitt playing the in Pinstripe Bowl in 2016 was seen as something of a fait accompli.
It’s safe to say that bowl directors and selectors pay attention when a team is able to bring a big group of fans to even a middle-tier bowl.
“I think we’ve showed that we’ll travel,” Narduzzi said. “[New York Yankees president] Randy [Levine] and [Pinstripe Bowl executive director] Mark [Holtzman] and [Pinstripe Bowl senior manager] John Mosley that run this bowl are excited about what our fan base did. I think it’s only going to get better.”
The way the ACC bowl selection works, it’s all about fit. The best teams don’t necessarily get the biggest bowls. Of the bowls in the ACC’s Tier I group, the Gator Bowl pays out the most at $2.5 million, but that assignment went to Georgia Tech, which finished fifth in the Coastal Division.
With Pitt continuing to prove that the school can bring fans no matter the location or the opponent, it bodes well for the Panthers to continue to be put in higher-and-higher-profile games as the years go on.
One that may stall Pitt’s momentum in that regard is the fact that they haven’t won very many of these games. Pitt is 0-2 in bowl games under Narduzzi, has lost three straight bowl games and during the team’s nine-year run of consecutive bowl appearances is just 3-6.
On one hand, that makes the team’s travel prowess all that more impressive, but on the other hand, it would probably help to win a few of these.
“I feel bad not only for our seniors, but for all those people that took the trip out here to watch the Panthers win, that we didn’t finish it and do our job to get it done,” Narduzzi said. “I don’t know if I had anything to do with it. Our fans are passionate. Pittsburgh is a football town. I thank them.”