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JOHN STEIGERWALD: Will Pitt ever be it again?

on November 02, 2013 11:00 AM

Is Pitt ever going to be it again?

The famous Sports Illustrated cover of the issue following Pitt’s win over Georgia in January 1977 that clinched the 1976 mythical national championship consists of a picture of Pitt quarterback Matt Cavanaugh with his hand in the air and the headline “Pitt is It.”

That was 37 years ago. Or three years longer than it’s been since the Pirates won their last championship.

Including the 12-0 1976 season, through the 1983 season, Pitt’s record was 78-15-2. Those teams produced seven NFL No. 1 draft picks and 15 players picked in the first three rounds. The 1981 and 1983 teams each produced three No. 1 picks.

It was the golden age of Pitt football.

And it ended 30 years ago.

Still, everybody associated with the Pitt program is quick to point to its great history and tradition. That was OK when the golden age was only 10 or 15 years in the rearview mirror, but the current version of Pitt football is further removed from the glory of its past than the Pirates are from Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell.

Pitt has won nine mythical national championships, but only two in the last 76 years. Current potential recruits probably have a little trouble conjuring up any excitement over those championships in 1915, 1916 and 1918, as impressive as they may have been.

Pitt lost to Navy last week.

It almost lost to Old Dominion at home two weeks ago.

Paul Chryst, the current head coach, is 10-10 after a season-and-a-half. Maybe he’s the guy who’s going to finally get Pitt back to the glory days, but he has a long way to go.

Nobody is expecting a top-10 ranking at this point, but everybody has been waiting for a Pitt football coach who can just beat the teams he’s supposed to beat.

Like Navy.

And Youngstown State.

People who have observed Chryst closely seem to have confidence in his ability to bring Pitt back to whatever level comes after respectability, and he can’t be held responsible for what’s been going on since 1982, but going into this week’s game with Georgia Tech, he looked like just another coach in a long line of coaches fighting a battle that might be impossible to win.

Maybe we’ve seen all that Pitt football can be in the 21st century and maybe this is it.

• If the Steelers can figure out a way to beat Tom Brady and the Patriots in Foxboro, something they have never been able to do, they will have the distinction of dropping Brady’s won-lost record as a starting quarterback to “only” 100 games over .500.

Brady comes into this game 142-41. If the Steelers can get through Brady’s depleted offensive line and get in his face, they will win. I think they will, but then I expected an easy win in Oakland.

A loss in New England would make the Steelers 5-10 in their last 15 regular-season games going back to last season.

That would be their worst stretch since the end of the 1999 season and the first three games, all losses, in 2000.

• How much does Brady miss his former favorite wide receiver Wes Welker, who’s now catching passes from Peyton Manining in Denver?

For starters, his passer rating is 74.9. Terrelle Pryor is at 77.1. Matt Schaub has a 78.8.

Welker is on his way to 100 catches and 15 to 20 touchdowns. Coldhardfootballfacts.com, which has always claimed that wide receivers are the most overrated players in the NFL, calls Welker the biggest impact receiver in NFL history.

He’s played with two of the best quarterbacks in NFL history in Manning and Brady, but CHFF points out that the Broncos, who had Manning last year, are averaging more than 12 points more per game this season and: “The teams fielding Welker at wide receiver have now scored exactly 900 points since the start of the 2012 season, a period of 24 games for two different franchises.

You can take any two teams over any 24-game period in NFL history, and they’ve never scored 900 points.”

The Steelers’ chances of beating Brady and the Patriots are greatly increased by Welker wearing orange.

• It should make you happy to know that the NFL is a non-profit organization. Yep, according to Jeremy Spector, the NFL’s attorney. He told CNBC that the league office, according to U.S tax code, is a non-profit trade association, promoting football and serving as an agent and organizer for the 32 clubs. It’s been that way since the 1940s. The 32 franchises pay $250 million to be part of the association. And that association pays Commissioner Roger Goodell $24 million per year. And the IRS can’t touch ’em.

What a country.

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