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Looking Back on Two Big Pitt Wins in South Bend Over the Years



Pitt football.

Pitt is squaring off against Notre Dame for the first time since 2020, and it’s the first time back in South Bend, Ind. since a 19-14 loss in 2018, so it makes sense to look back on a couple of big Pitt wins over the years.

It’s the 73rd meeting over a nearly 100-year history, and Notre Dame has largely had the upper hand, but Pitt has racked up a few impact wins over the years. And wins in 1963 (the now 60-year anniversary) and 2004 certainly stand out.

There were only five major bowl games back in 1963, the Rose Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Cotton Bowl, the Orange Bowl and the Gator Bowl, and Pitt turned down an opportunity to play in the Gator Bowl that season largely due to a miscommunication.

“Nov. 22, 1963, the day before we were scheduled to play Penn State our last game, President (John F.) Kennedy was assassinated,” former Pitt running back Jim Dodaro told PSN in 2020. “As a result, they delayed our Penn State game and they also delayed the Army/Navy game. The story was that Navy wasn’t going to accept a bid to the bowl game because of Kennedy’s assassination.

“So, our athletic director turned down the Gator Bowl bid. We ended up beating Penn State, Navy beat Army and Navy ended up accepting the bid to play Texas in the Cotton Bowl for the national championship. We were 9-1, No. 3 in the country and didn’t go to a bowl game because there were no bowls available after we turned down the Gator Bowl.

“We could’ve gone there had we accepted initially before President Kennedy was assassinated, but they ended up taking another team. All the bowls were committed to and we didn’t have one to go to. If Navy would’ve declined (like they were rumored to) we would’ve played Texas for the national championship.”

But as Pitt raced out to a 9-1 season, finishing No. 3 in the Coaches Poll and No. 4 in the AP Poll, the Panthers knocked off Notre Dame in South Bend 27-7.

Ernie Borghetti and John Maczuzak led the way on the offensive line, measuring in at just 235 pounds each, and All-American running back Paul Martha was especially effective against the Fighting Irish.

The 2004 overtime victory over the Fighting Irish came just over 40 years after the big win in 1963, and it didn’t have nearly the impact nationally, but it was still an upset win for the Panthers. And it was one helluva game.

Notre Dame tied the game at 38 late after Irish kicker D.J. Fitzpatrick nailed a 45-yard field goal. With 1:17 left, it fell upon Tyler Palko to continue a record-setting performance.

Palko, who completed 26-of-42 pass attempts for 334 yards and five touchdowns (the first five touchdown performance ever against Notre Dame), had a chance to lead the Panthers on a drive later. And so he did, setting up Josh Cummings for a 32-yard field goal with just six seconds left.

And as Cummings’ field goal sailed through the uprights, it secured a Pitt win and a bowl appearance — eventually making an ill-fated Fiesta Bowl appearance against Utah.

But, nonetheless, Pitt thwarted Heisman-hopeful Brady Quinn and the Fighting Irish to record a massive win at Notre Dame Stadium.

Prior to the win, Pitt had won just once since the 1988 season, dropping 11 of 12 games in that span. It was the first win at Notre Dame since 1986 and featured the most points the Panthers ever scored against the Irish — a feat that has not since been beaten.

So, it only made sense that Palko, in his excitement, used an expletive in a postgame interview with NBC.

“Before I start, I lost my composure on the field and said something in the heat of the moment,” Palko said, as recorded by the New York Times. “That’s not me. That’s not Tyler.”

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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