Pitt first appeared on Notre Dame’s schedule in 1909. The rivalry was a natural. Relative proximity. Same independent status.
Further, as Western Pennsylvania became settled with immigrants destined to work in coal mines and steel mills, many of the workers were from Catholic countries and families, and they were well aware of the significance of playing their new country’s pre-eminent Catholic University.
Of course, Notre Dame was interested in poaching Pitt’s private preserve of football talent. Playing Pitt’s Panthers would increase Notre Dame’s exposure in this talent rich area. The Pittsburgh area yielded two of Notre Dame’s seven Heisman trophy winners, John Lujack of Connellsville and Leon Hart of Turtle Creek. Notre Dame found other players in Western Pennsylvania who “contributed.” Most Notre Dame fans are familiar with three quarterbacks from Western Pennsylvania who played a bit: Terry Hanratty, Tom Clements and Joe Montana.
Pitt did not waste its opportunities with the rawboned sons of rawboned immigrants. It won its first national championship in 1910. Then under Coach “Pop” Warner, the Panthers won national championships in ’15, ’16 and ’18.
When Warner left for Stanford, he was replaced by the legendary Jock Sutherland. Pitt claims championships (in one or more polls) under Sutherland in ’29, ’31, ’34, ’36 and ’37. That was the Golden Era for the Panthers.
In 1937, Pitt had a version of Notre Dame’s Four Horsemen, with a “Dream Backfield” of Dick Cassiano, John Chickerneo, Marshall Goldberg and Curly Stebbins. They were labeled the “Sutherland Scythe” and ran Jock’s double wing to perfection.
Pitt was a national, not merely regional, power under Warner and Jock Sutherland. While the Irish started out 4-0-1 against Pitt, Sutherland owned the gap between Rockne and Leahy winning 5 for Pittsburgh and losing just one. Coaches matter. Frank Leahy was 9-1 against Pitt, Ara a perfect 11-0.
Tony Dorestt, A Thorn in Notre Dame’s Side
Dan Devine’s teams played solid defense, and they kept most runners in check. But Pitt and Johnny Majors brought in a will-of-the-wisp from Hopewell High School in Aliquippa. The phenom was a bandy legged open field wraith named Tony Dorsett. Dorsett accumulated a mind-boggling 754 yards in 96 attempts spread over four years, the greatest running back harvest ever against Notre Dame.
Pitt’s shining modern moment came in ’76 when the Panthers of Coach Johnny Majors invaded South Bend for the Irish home opener and demolished the Irish and Rick Slager 31-10. Dorsett went on to win the Heisman and Pitt easily won the national championship.
Pitt Joins a Conference
As the number of independents dwindled, Pitt was compelled to join a conference and became part of the Big East from 1991-2012. Then in 2013 the Panthers joined the ACC, so they will meet the Irish approximately every third year.
Pitt played its last season in venerable Pitt Stadium in 1999. Pittsburgh was once a Panther city, but all those Super Bowls made Pittsburgh a Steeler City. Pitt is now subservient to the Steelers both in the public’s heart and as a lessee in gleaming Heinz Stadium.
Notre Dame’s longest game ever was against Pitt, a four overtime loss in 2008. Then there was a three overtime thriller in Notre Dame’s unbeaten regular season of 2012. Pitt beat the Irish in the last meeting, a 28-21 Pitt victory, in 2013. Notre Dame invades Heinz Stadium on November 7, 2015.
The Irish lead the series 47-21-1. Future meetings with Pitt will blend the glory of bygone independent days with the modern ACC affiliation.
Pitt Nearly Derails Notre Dame’s Undefeated Regular Season
In 2012 Notre Dame came into their rivalry game with Pitt undefeated at 8-0 and ranked 3rd in the country fresh off an impressive 31-13 win on the road over Oklahoma. The Irish were heavily favored over the unranked Panthers, but Pitt came into the game hungry and had the Irish on the ropes. Notre Dame trailed by 14 points in the 4th quarter and their dreams of an undefeated regular season seemed almost dead after a 4th quarter interception in the endzone by Everett Golson.
Golson rebounded the Irish, however, and rallied for 14 points including a two point conversion with just 2:11 left in the game. The drama didn’t end there though. Notre Dame fumbled away the ball within inches of crossing the goalline for what would have been a go ahead touchdown in double overtime. Notre Dame forced a field goal though and Pitt missed. Later on it was learned that Notre Dame should have been flagged for having two players with the same number on the field at the same time. Both Chris Brown and Bennett Jackson were on the block team to try and block the kick.
Notre Dame ended up scoring the winning touchdown in triple OT on a Golson QB sneak and Notre Dame’s undefeated season remained intact.
Notre Dame – Pitt Series History
|5||W||10/24/31||25||South Bend, IN||12|
|7||L||10/28/33||0||South Bend, IN||14|
|9||W||10/19/35||9||South Bend, IN||6|
|11||L||11/6/37||6||South Bend, IN||21|
|15||W||10/5/46||33||South Bend, IN||0|
|18||W||11/11/50||18||South Bend, IN||7|
|20||L||10/11/52||19||South Bend, IN||22|
|21||W||10/17/53||23||South Bend, IN||14|
|24||W||10/26/57||13||South Bend, IN||7|
|27||L||11/5/60||13||South Bend, IN||20|
|29||W||11/10/62||43||South Bend, IN||22|
|30||L||11/9/63||7||South Bend, IN||27|
|33||W||11/5/66||40||South Bend, IN||0|
|35||W||11/9/68||56||South Bend, IN||7|
|37||W||11/7/70||46||South Bend, IN||14|
|39||W||10/14/72||42||South Bend, IN||16|
|41||W||11/16/74||14||South Bend, IN||10|
|43||L||9/11/76||10||South Bend, IN||31|
|45||W||10/14/78||26||South Bend, IN||17|
|47||L||11/5/83||16||South Bend, IN||21|
|48||L||10/11/86||9||South Bend, IN||10|
|51||W||10/28/89||45||South Bend, IN||7|
|53||W||10/12/91||42||South Bend, IN||7|
|55||W||10/9/93||44||South Bend, IN||0|
|56||W||11/16/96||60||South Bend, IN||6|
|59||W||10/6/01||24||South Bend, IN||7|
|60||W||10/12/02||14||South Bend, IN||6|
|62||L||11/13/04||38||South Bend, IN||41|
|64||L||11/1/08||33||South Bend, IN||36|
|66||W||10/9/10||23||South Bend, IN||17|
|68||W||11/3/12||29||South Bend, IN||26|
|70||W||11/7/15||42||South Bend, IN||30|