Like many Pitt fans, the stunning 54-34 loss to Rutgers has had me tossing and turning at night. Last night I laid in my bed restless, replaying the game in my mind, asking myself questions.
How could the Panthers allow 54 to a Rutgers team that has not scored more than 21 against a FBS (1-A) opponent all season? Why was there no pressure on their quarterback? Wasn’t our defensive line supposed to be our strength? Isn’t their offensive line supposed to be in shambles? Why did we try that fake field goal?
Unfortunately, everybody who follows this team has been here before with PITT. The one question that caused me the most discomfort during the wee hours of the morning was “why do we loose every time we have a chance to build momentum, you know, make a statement for the program?”
And then, at 2:30 am on Monday October, 27th 2008, I, Paul Francis Sievers had a revelation. Call it a spiritual awakening that allowed me to see the world through the eyes of the Wanstache.
When Dave Wannstedt (aka the Wanstache) wakes up every morning he looks at the sunrise over Beaver Stadium in Happy Valley, a two hour drive east. A stadium packed with 100,000 loyal fans six or seven Saturdays every autumn. Many of these fans are from Pittsburgh, in fact there are more Penn State alumni in Allegheny county than Pitt alumni.
Every night, the Wanstache watches the sun set over Ohio Stadium in Columbus, three hour drive west. He thinks about how Ohio State has become the greatest football program north of the Mason-Dixon line with maybe the most loyal fan base in America.
The rest of the day Dave Wannstedt is left to worry about his own program that rarely sells out the 65,000 seat stadium it shares with the Steelers. He knows that if he can win with the phenomenal local recruits he has drawn to Pitt, he can probably generate enough local interest in the team to sell out the stadium. Hell he can win the conference and generate a serious buzz in a region of America where football is religion.
His program can be like Penn State and Ohio State. The Stache promptly breaks into a cold sweat and starts shaking. “%*#! THAT!” he screams, “I’m no conformist!” He quickly calms down and then heads back to work, fine tuning the most brilliant marketing scheme of all time.
Sports fans in Pittsburgh these days seem to be surrounded by success. Penn State, Ohio State, West Virginia, Pitt basketball, the Penguins, and the Steelers. All of these teams are both successful and popular, with wild fan bases that pack their stadiums and buy the team merchandise. Being like these other teams is not enough for the Wanstache, oh no, he’s too *!^#ing extreme.
The PITT football program is going to market itself differently. Marketing firms call it the snob appeal. The snob appeal is a marketing technique that is usually used to sell high end products like jewelry and luxury cars.
Part of the joy in owning a BMW is knowing that not everybody can afford one, therefore if you are seen driving a BMW it is a status symbol that either impresses people or makes people jealous, giving the product fantastic snob appeal.
However, this tactic is rarely used in sports, and this is what makes the whole plot genius. With all the success in and around Pittsburgh, PITT football is a unique product that allows its fans to act like tough guys and tell all the Penn State fans around them “Oh yeah, try rooting for Pitt. That’s real dedication man!” Who needs winning when your fan base can have the self satisfaction of sticking with a loser through thin and thinner.
This tactic also allows us to reminisce about the glory days when Tony Dorsett, Hugh Green and Dan Marino had PITT in the national spotlight every year. It is hard to find the time to be nostalgic about the past if your team is too successful in the present.
The Stache knows that there are about 30,000 fans at every home game that bleed blue and gold. These fans will not waiver. However, once the attendance goes above 50,000 people he knows that there is a problem. “Bandwagon Jumpers” he says to himself, “nobody likes bandwagon jumpers. My die-hard fans will never forgive me if I give them a reason to hang out here. Quick, what would a Lloyd McClendon Pirate team do in this situation?”
On Saturday, the attendance rose above 50,000 and much to our “delight” we were treated to 60 minutes of football where our Panthers were out-hustled, out-hit and out-executed. Much like Bowling Green in the first game of the season, much like Notre Dame in 2005 as well as Michigan State and Rutgers in 2006. Hell, after three straight road wins the Stache was doing us a favor, he knew we couldn’t handle the prosperity.
Some of you might be skeptical that this would help the Pitt program. HOW DARE YOU DOUBT THE WANSTACHE! Remember, this man coached the Miami Dolphins, he knows the corrosive power of a fan base littered with bandwagon jumpers. Hell the thought of Miami makes the Stache want to run over to Heinz field with a big ol’ tarp and cover all the seats in the upper deck. Actually, that might not be a bad idea.