For the past 10 years, as a Pitt football fan, I could really never understand why we never had more of a rabid/passionate fan base. We have had many reasons to see great crowds with tremendous enthusiasm, but we never found them.
After the past few seasons I can finally understand why this attitude exists. It always seems that when a Pitt football team is ready to take the next step forward, we end up stumbling.
In 2004 with a top 10 team and the most legitimate heisman contender we have had in 30 years, we lost at Toledo in a game where we were up by a couple of scores in the 2nd half.
With the introduction of Dave Wannstedt, the return of Matt Cavanaugh, and keeping defensive guru Paul Rhoads, the Panther faithful were excited to see what this coach could do with a team coming off of a BCS berth. What we had was a slaughter at Heinz Field at the hands of Notre Dame. While this could have been overlooked due to the introduction of then hot coaching prospect Charlie Weis introducing his offensive dominance, we then saw the Panthers fall in overtime to Ohio University.
In 2008, the Panthers were starting the season after preventing our hated rivals from West Virginia from playing in the National Championship. We were introducing a monster recruiting class and had things lined up to make a play for the Big East title with the last coaching wizard, Rich Rodriguez, leaving for Michigan. What we had was an opening day loss to Bowling Green, giving us our 3rd loss to a MAC team in our entire history. Things did not get better as it took a late 4th quarter comeback to defeat the Buffalo Bulls at home. The season ended with a truly embarrassing 3-0 loss at the Sun Bowl where the Pitt offense hit rock bottom.
In 2009, Pitt had a chance to earn more respect than ever by going undefeated in the Big East and earning its first BCS bid in 5 years. On a cold November night, Pitt lost to a lowly WVU team in a game that fans claimed "Didn't mean anything". That game was followed up by one of the biggest collapses in Pitt football history as a huge 1st half lead was squandered away against Cincy. That allowed the Bearcats to finish undefeated and pushed Pitt back to 3rd place in the Big East.
This season with Brian Kelly gone, a top 20 ranking, 2 great offensive weapons, a vaunted defensive line, and a quarterback fans have been screaming for the past 2 seasons, Pitt was in a position to take that long awaited step forward. You will hear excuses that losing a close game to Utah is not that big of a deal. Those people making that excuse do have a point. The bigger issue is that Pitt had a chance to win the game, but passed instead taking the safe move to play for the tie. When we did take a chance, our first play in over time resulted in an interception leading to a loss.
Now those are just the issues since I've been a Pitt fan starting in 2000. I can see how fans who have been around much longer than myself can lose hope and simply go to root for the team, but not expect too much. Honestly that is the point where Jones and I are right now. We will be at every game as we always have been, we will be cheering our hearts out for the Panthers, but we won't be expecting championship after championship as it won't happen with this program.