Notre Dame – Pitt Football Rivalry History

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 Stadium

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

1W10/30/096Pittsburgh, PA0
2T11/4/110Pittsburgh, PA0
3W11/2/123Pittsburgh, PA0
4W10/25/3035Pittsburgh, PA19
5W10/24/3125South Bend, IN12
6L10/29/320Pittsburgh, PA12
7L10/28/330South Bend, IN14
8L11/3/340Pittsburgh, PA19
9W10/19/359South Bend, IN6
10L10/24/360Pittsburgh, PA26
11L11/6/376South Bend, IN21
12W9/25/4341Pittsburgh, PA0
13W9/30/4458Pittsburgh, PA0
14W10/20/4539Pittsburgh, PA9
15W10/5/4633South Bend, IN0
16W10/4/4740Pittsburgh, PA6
17W10/2/4840Pittsburgh, PA0
18W11/11/5018South Bend, IN7
19W10/20/5133Pittsburgh, PA0
20L10/11/5219South Bend, IN22
21W10/17/5323South Bend, IN14
22W10/9/5433Pittsburgh, PA0
23L11/10/5613Pittsburgh, PA26
24W10/26/5713South Bend, IN7
25L11/8/5826Pittsburgh, PA29
26L11/14/5913Pittsburgh, PA28
27L11/5/6013South Bend, IN20
28W11/11/6126Pittsburgh, PA20
29W11/10/6243South Bend, IN22
30L11/9/637South Bend, IN27
31W11/7/6417Pittsburgh, PA15
32W11/6/6569Pittsburgh, PA13
33W11/5/6640South Bend, IN0
34W11/11/6738Pittsburgh, PA0
35W11/9/6856South Bend, IN7
36W11/8/6949Pittsburgh, PA7
37W11/7/7046South Bend, IN14
38W11/6/7156Pittsburgh, PA7
39W10/14/7242South Bend, IN16
40W11/10/7331Pittsburgh, PA10
41W11/16/7414South Bend, IN10
42L11/15/7520Pittsburgh, PA34
43L9/11/7610South Bend, IN31
44W9/10/7719Pittsburgh, PA9
45W10/14/7826South Bend, IN17
46W11/6/8231Pittsburgh, PA16
47L11/5/8316South Bend, IN21
48L10/11/869South Bend, IN10
49L10/10/8722Pittsburgh, PA30
50W10/8/8830Pittsburgh, PA20
51W10/28/8945South Bend, IN7
52W10/27/9031Pittsburgh, PA22
53W10/12/9142South Bend, IN7
54W10/10/9252Pittsburgh, PA21
55W10/9/9344South Bend, IN0
56W11/16/9660South Bend, IN6
57W10/11/9745Pittsburgh, PA21
58L11/13/9927Pittsburgh, PA37
59W10/6/0124South Bend, IN7
60W10/12/0214South Bend, IN6
61W10/11/0320Pittsburgh, PA14
62L11/13/0438South Bend, IN41
63W9/3/0542Pittsburgh, PA21
64L11/1/0833South Bend, IN36
65L11/14/0922Pittsburgh, PA27
66W10/9/1023South Bend, IN17
67W9/24/1115Pittsburgh, PA12
68W11/3/1229South Bend, IN26
69L11/9/1321Pittsburgh, PA28
70W11/7/1542South Bend, IN30

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  1. Duranko – the Big 33 game was between Pa and Ohio. And it didn’t end because either team had an advantage. Western Pa still has a great deal of talent in its scholastic league. At least 5 right now have PITT and ND on a short list. Narduzzi may lose a few more games this year…but he is making in roads in local recruiting and creating a buzz that hasn’t been around in a while. PITT / ND is always tough. In 2012 PITT would have spoiled the NC run for the irish….except for the worst pass int call on 4th and 4 I have ever seen…and a missed chip shot FG. I look for a close game this year too.

  2. Pitt did have some stout teams mid 70’s early 80’s. Always played ND tough had NC and usually finished high. Known for their O line play back then too. Power ball. If I recall correctly. Russ Grimm, of coarse ND hater Mark May. Consistent strong team line play. Yes Cavanaugh then Marino. Dorsett. Jackie Sherrill coached there too! Remember him leaving with controversy. Might have been another team? Big name coach though. Penn St. vs Pitt games were fun. Can remember Marino loosing to Penn St his senior year. (Last regular season game) Great game. May have cost Pitt title or gave Penn St a shot for theirs. Long time ago. Exciting football back then too.

  3. Bandy-legged. Wasn’t that a description of Knute? I’ve known a few of those in my day. Wasn’t St. Paul bandy-legged?

  4. Ray, a couple of things.

    First, there was a time when Pennsylvania was a mother lode of the nation’s best. Then demographics and desegregation worked through the United States.

    There used to be a Big 33 game between Pennsylvania and Texas, but I think it ended when Texas kept romping.

    But even as late as the 70’s 80’s Pitt was snagging ND targets like Bill Fralic and Marc Spindler, one a great OL and one a great DL.

    I remember the ’77 game turning when Pitt’s qb, and it might have been Matt Cavanaughr went out of the game. They had trouble executing the center snap and Ara was the commentator during the game. He went into the hurried high pitched patois of his and said “it’s difficult to run your offense when you have trouble executing the exchange between the center and the quarterback.

    Of all of Notre Dame’s champions that one had the September least likely to predict a great season. But Devin’es teams were like that, always getting better, and that team began getting good after the week off in October. By November they were dominant, far and away the best team in the country, though their record was marred by an ugly loss to Ole Miss in “neutral” Jackson in September. eal,n

  5. Pitt played Penn State every year until 1992. I doubt their resurgence in the 60s and 70s had anything to do with the series stopping.

    Yes, we should be able to handle them. They are not very good.

  6. I remember an extremely down period for Pitt in the late 60’s to early 70’s, and a natural rival for them Penn State, played them every year, then they got real good and Penn State sort of “removed” them from there schedule but we continued to play them. They are a tough, blue collar type team to this day. I remember a miracle win by us over them I think in 1978 when they had us but made some bonehead plays and a fumble as a receiver was going in for a touchdown by them that would have been overturned by replay today. We were extremely lucky to beat them in the late 70’s a couple of times. They were whipping our eventual national champions of 1977 when their QB broke his wrist and our defense eventually won the game for us. I respect them but we should be able to handle them this year, unless their QB plays way over his head.

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