Amidst the blue mass of Pitt fans that had made the trek to JMA Wireless Dome last season, a group of shirtless supporters with P, I, T, T painted across their naked chests sat right against the railing.
The man with the bright, yellow “T” — the second T, of course — painted across his blue chest held a sign in his hand. ‘Kenny Heisman.’
It’s a roughly 350-mile journey to drive from Pittsburgh to Syracuse, driving straight up I-79 before taking I-90 east along Lake Erie. Still, a contingent of Pitt fans made the hours-long journey to watch the 66th consecutive matchup between Pitt and Syracuse.
Pitt won last season’s matchup 31-14, fueled by four touchdowns from Kenny Pickett on the way to being named a Heisman Trophy finalist, and it was the fourth consecutive win.
Dating back to 2002, Pitt has won 17 of 20 matchups. But in the prior 11 matchups, dating to when Pitt and Syracuse joined the Big East, ‘Cuse won all 11 games.
Pat Narduzzi, who has been a part of seven Pitt-Syracuse matchups, winning all but the 2017 matchup, does feel like it’s a rivalry.
“Yes, I think we all go back to the Big East days,” Pat Narduzzi said Monday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “Is it one of those where we’re going to go fight in the tunnel? I don’t think so. But it’s a rival game. But I don’t know if it’s to that extent.”
There have only been two opponents with more all-time meetings in Pitt’s history. West Virginia and Penn State. And while both WVU and PSU hold legitimate emotional bonds, Syracuse just doesn’t have the same level of emotion.
Pitt is 42-32-3 all-time dating back to the inaugural meeting in 1916, a 30-0 Pitt victory in Syracuse, and regardless of the intensity of feeling, there is a history.
Pitt’s longest win streak, from 1973-1983, is 11 games. Syracuse’s longest win streak, from 1991-2001, is 11 games. Pitt is 23-11 at home and 19-21-3 on the road.
There are a few players on Pitt’s current roster from New York, including Israel Abanikanda, Matt Goncalves, Addison Copeland III, SirVocea Dennis and Jimmy Scott, but there’s only one from Syracuse. And that’s Dennis.
Dennis, who is a Pitt captain, a semifinalist for the Butkus Award as the top linebacker in college football and an NFL prospect, wasn’t offered a scholarship by hometown Syracuse.
He isn’t bitter about how things have turned out, but he will always love when Pitt’s schedule turns to Syracuse.
“Of course, I love Syracuse week,” Dennis said Wednesday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “It’s not even about the game really. It’s about my family coming to the game, no matter the location and it’s just a chance for everyone to see me play against my hometown team.”
Pitt and Syracuse are scheduled to kickoff at 3:30 p.m. at Acrisure Stadium Saturday.