The Backyard Brawl is More Than a Rivalry

It was June 2022 and it felt as if this game was the following week. I was texting relatives, calling the WVU ticket office, searching resale sites, determined to secure my tickets for the return of this game. It’s been 11 years since West Virginia and Pitt have played a football game, which many would agree is 11 years too long. Recognized as one of the best rivalries in college football, this game takes on meaning for many different reasons. Some of those reasons I’ve just recently discovered since moving to Pittsburgh 8 months ago. The mountainous terrain quite literally brings me back to West Virginia. However, a backyard isn’t the only thing we share – it’s a blue collar way of life, hard working and humble people who don’t come from much, and small coal mining towns reluctant to change and steeped in history. This game embodies the deep-rooted culture of a region, the storied history of two institutions, and the heated traditions that come with a rivalry. This is the Backyard Brawl.

Although I’ve never been physically present at a Backyard Brawl, I most definitely have been there in spirit, and I most definitely remember my spirit being crushed during one game in particular – need I say much more. It was a 13-9 loss in 2007 which ended the #2 ranked Mountaineers’ BCS National Championship aspirations (we still love you, Pat). It’s one that certainly sticks with me, more so now due to the current landscape in college football that limits how much a team controls their own destiny given the precedent set by the College Football Playoff and the blue bloods of the sport who are in contention year after year.

Glad we got that out of the way early – it’s very real how a sport can heighten your emotions and center your focus around a single game as if nothing else in the world matters. You can say that winning cures all, but that wouldn’t make this game a rivalry now would it. The current record sits at 61-40-3 in favor of Pitt, with WVU winning the last game played between the two in 2011 by a score of 21-20. WVU Director of Athletics, Shane Lyons, and University of Pittsburgh AD, Heather Lyke, recently announced an extension of the rivalry game beyond the four game series starting this year, which will include an additional four-year series from 2029-2032. It’s another meaningful step towards seeing Pitt on the schedule every season.

The Backyard Brawl dates back to 1895, but the schools have been tied to one another for even longer and not only due to proximity. Coal mining in Pennsylvania and West Virginia helped power the U.S. for decades, but what empowered individuals to go into the mines everyday was to do whatever it took to provide for their families. Most men did not have a choice on whether they would go into the coal mines or not, but it was a way of life for those who grew up in this area of the country and it shaped a culture of hard work and grit that would be passed down for generations. It’s a connection between the two schools that makes us more alike than either fanbase would care to admit, but still garners mutual respect.

Aside from the game itself, that’s what I think about when this rivalry comes to mind – the people. What their ancestors had to endure is woven into who they are today and continues to be a reminder of what they came from. These people are tough, they keep their heads down and go to work, they have immense pride in what they do, and they don’t care as much about recognition as they do respect. When it comes down to why this game means so much, for me it always comes back to family.

I felt inclined to write this more so for myself if anyone, to put my thoughts and emotions into words, but to also put things in perspective. I would not have a connection to the Backyard Brawl or West Virginia University if not for my family. My family is the sole reason I dreamed about going to WVU and why I feel so passionate about the University and the state. So I’m writing for them as well – to express my appreciation for planting the seeds which sprouted our WVU legacy. I’m incredibly grateful for the family and friends that make my connection to the school feel so much more than just a connection. When you get teary-eyed thinking about what something means to you, it’s usually something that you love and feel emotionally attached to, which is the case for me with WVU. I love this school and all the ties that make it special.

I’m not sure what emotions might come out when I find myself in the stands of Acrisure Stadium on Thursday night, surrounded by WVU and Pitt fans, standing next to my family, watching a rivalry that originated in 1895, in a city I now call home – it’s an image I’ve seen in my head countless times in the days, months, and years leading up to the 105th edition of the Backyard Brawl. However, what I am sure of is the raw emotion that will be felt when John Denver comes through the speakers and West Virginia and Pitt fans are joined arm-in-arm to cherish a moment that transcends a rivalry game and takes us home to our shared backyard.