Louis Riddick had to take a step back. He could barely believe his eyes as the football clanged off of West Virginia wideout Bryce Ford-Wheaton’s hands, spinning up into the air and right into M.J. Devonshire’s waiting hands.
He’d done his homework on Devonshire, too. He knew what he was coming.
He closed his hand around his headset’s mic and told his ESPN crew, “That’s six, he’s gone,” before sliding the headset off. As Devonshire raced back through the WVU offense on the way to the end zone, Riddick’s eyes were drawn to the mass of screaming and jumping Pitt students. Thousands of them, celebrating as if Pitt had won a Super Bowl.
It was Riddick’s first game back since he finished his career in 1990, and it’s safe to say that his return to Pittsburgh was every he could have hoped for and more. Much more.
“It was, as far as broadcasting is concerned, calling the Super Bowl, calling playoff games is one thing, obviously in the NFL we’re talking about the very highest level, but in terms of emotion and how personally invested you feel in a broadcast, when Devonshire returned the pick six, it was very emotional,” Riddick said at Pitt’s Kickoff Luncheon Friday. “I had to take a step back for a minute.
“If you replay the broadcast, we all kind of went silent because the camera crews just panned down the student section, and it was a mob of blue and yellow. And that was something I don’t think you’ve seen here, I don’t know if ever. Especially in terms of that magnitude, in terms of how many people were in the stadium that day and the raw emotion that was coming out of it. It was very hard for me to remain neutral in that game. I got a lot of flack on Twitter from the West Virginia fanbase about me being too impartial. I think I did a pretty good job of remaining pretty neutral, but there were moments where it was really, really hard.”
Pitt, obviously, won the Backyard Brawl in front of a record crowd at Acrisure Stadium, knocking off WVU 38-31. There were 70,622 in attendance at Acrisure Stadium that night, and that didn’t include Riddick and broadcast partner Matt Barrie in the booth.
Riddick had a job to do, serving as Barrie’s color commentator on the ESPN broadcast, but he couldn’t help but let his mind wander a bit — back to his play days against at Pitt, back to his experiences playing in the Backyard Brawl. It’s that memory, a random September afternoon in 1989, that will stick with Riddick forever.
Pitt traveled to Morgantown, West Virginia as the 10th-ranked team in the country in 1989, taking on the 9th-ranked Mountaineers in an early season clash of unbeaten squads. It’s a game that didn’t result in a championship for either team.
A 42-yard field goal from Ed Fraizer tied the game at the final whistle, capping a 22-point fourth quarterback comeback. It was a tie game. But to Riddick, it’s what defines him.
“It kinda made me think about 1989 when we went down to Morgantown, and we were both ranked in the top 10, and that was probably the most emotional game I’d ever played in my career, high school or college or pro,” Riddick said.
“That was probably the most emotional night of my life because we were just getting absolutely trounced that night. We were down 31-9 with nine minutes left, and we came back and tied the game. I remember walking off the field that night crying and having Mark Spindler kinda put his arm around me saying, ‘This is why we came here. To play in games like this.’ And that’s what it reminded me of.”
In the current age of college football, where realignment, NIL and the transfer portal are flipping the sport on its head, rivalries like the Backyard Brawl aren’t taken into consideration. But that’s been the case for a while now. Last season’s Brawl was the first in over a decade. And with last season’s turnout, and this season’s expectations for the sequel, it has Riddick excited for more.
“That’s what college football is about,” Riddick said.