Sigh…it’s Thursday and there’s no football. OK, Houston is playing Jacksonville tonight, but there’s no football. A week ago, there was a seemingly endless stream of football in front of us, starting with the Steelers vs. the Ravens Thanksgiving night. Pittsburgh lost that game by 2 points, but it was a game that required us to watch until the final second. There were many such games last week.
In addition to family and food, Thanksgiving marks a weekend of rivalries in college football. One of my favorites used to be the Backyard Brawl, a game between West Virginia University (WVU) and the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt). As long as I was aware of this game, it was always played in Pittsburgh in the stadium used by the Steelers. After slightly over 100 years, the Backyard Brawl came to an end in 2012. Having graduated from both WVU and Pitt, this was an especially sad moment for me. The only good thing was that both teams had left the foundering Big East Conference before it collapsed into the football-free-zone and the American Athletic Conference. Living in UConn’s backyard was never easy for me, so I was glad to see my teams get off the ship while life boats were still available.
Although Pitt and WVU may only look forward to playing each other again in a bowl game in the future, WVU appears to be part of a rivalry for me. WVU moved into the Big-12 Conference and by some strange stroke of scheduling, WVU has played Iowa State University (ISU) on Thanksgiving weekend for two years in a row. The fact that my brother attended ISU makes this a bit more than an oh-by-the-way game for us.
We decided that some sort of bet had to be made. Separated by about 1,200 miles, this wasn’t going to be a dinner or a few beers. We decided that the loser would have to wear the opposing team’s t-shirt in public. My brother is retired, so he agreed to wear a WVU t-shirt to Beer Club if WVU should win. I agreed to wear an ISU t-shirt – under my dress shirt – to work, if ISU wins. When my boss heard about the bet, he vetoed the whole “under the shirt” thing and said
“Oh no, you wear that over your dress shirt” and walked away saying “I love bets like this!”
I missed my chance to gloat during the first year. The bet had just begun and I hadn’t gotten the WVU t-shirt to my brother by Thanksgiving. WVU won, but it was a shallow victory. T-shirts exchanged; several visits behind us, we were looking forward to a good grudge match, but a losing season for both teams stripped the importance from this game. At two points during the game, WVU was ahead by 17 points and the end seemed secure. In fact, both my brother and I switched to watch another rivalry – a real rivalry – the Auburn vs. Alabama game a.k.a. the Iron Bowl.
I might have ignored that game, and its amazing Cinderella finish, if WVU v ISU had been better and if it hadn’t been for a friend’s blog about the history of the Iron Bowl. I spent my freshman year at the University of Georgia, so neither Auburn nor Alabama are teams I normally root for. But, when they play each other, well, it’s the SEC, it’s on television and you have to root for someone. In 1972, Georgia lost to both Auburn and Alabama but we lost to Alabama at home. Given that, and my friend’s infectious loyalty to his alma mater, I count myself among the Auburn fans of the world (when they’re not playing Georgia).
After Auburn ran back Alabama’s missed field goal over 100 yards to score a touchdown and win the game, I switched back to my game, only to find that ISU had tied the score. Suddenly, I was facing the real possibility of having to pay-up, as it were. One overtime, still tied. Two overtimes, still tied. Third overtime and ISU scored a touchdown. If you’re familiar with NCAA football, beginning with the 3rd overtime, teams are required to attempt the 2-point conversion – no problem, ISU got that too. WVU got the ball and they looked good. On the first play, they took the ball inside the 10 yard line. Unfortunately, they never took it any farther. Ugh – the shirt…
Fortunately, I own a mostly gray ISU t-shirt so I don’t have to wear the awful red and yellow one my brother sent me.
I hope WVU and ISU keep playing on rivalry weekend. It may not have started out as a rivalry between the teams, but I think this year’s game turned up the heat. If one or both of these teams happens to be in contention for a bowl slot, this game could get hot. It will never be the Backyard Brawl and nothing will ever be Auburn-Alabama, but this has the makings of the kind of game that could make you spill your leftovers.