I don't actually remember which year it was. Sometime in the 1980s is all I know. And it was intense.
I've said many times that college football is an incredibly regionalized sport. If you were born before the 1990s and are reading this site, you probably grew up a) obsessed with college football, and b) obsessed with your college football. If you're a Florida State fan, you grew up obsessed with Florida schools and the southeast. If you're a Michigan fan, you grew up with Michigan, Ohio State, Woody, Bo and Big Ten Big Ten Big Ten Big Ten Big Ten Big Ten. Me, I grew up a Missouri fan in Western Oklahoma. I could tell you everything you want to know about the Big 8 and the Oklahoma-Nebraska games that defined each season (1985 and 1987 were my favorites), but even though I knew I loved the sport, I was woefully uninformed about how the rest of the country felt about college football.
Then one night, on ESPN, i saw a Pittsburgh-West Virginia game in Morgantown. Maybe it was 1989, when No. 9 West Virginia tied No. 10 Pittsburgh, 31-31. Maybe it was 1987, when the Mountaineers fell to the Panthers, 6-3, to fall to an uncharacteristic 1-3. Maybe it was 1985, when the teams tied yet again, this time 10-10. I'm not sure. It was probably 1989* because I think I remember both teams being ranked pretty high (and I'm pretty sure we didn't get cable until about 1987-88 at the earliest), but the only thing I remember for sure is ... man, was it intense, both on the field and in the stands. This was before HD, before a lot of the production value and endless shots of
camera whores fans in the stands, before College Football Gameday was around to tell me about how important a game was or how crazy certain teams' fans were. But you could tell. The crazy, the hate, and most importantly, the energy just radiated through my parents' small television. I was hooked. And I was enthralled enough by the product itself that I really didn't even notice the score.
And this was a couple of decades before 2007, when an underachieving Pitt team derailed West Virginia's dream season in the rivalry's 100th edition. Nothing stokes a bitter rivalry more than a devastating upset or two.
If it WAS 1989, and this game was on ESPN as my faulty memory suggests, then I have no idea why a Backyard Brawl that included a 22-point, fourth-quarter comeback by the road team hasn't made it into heavy rotation on ESPN Classic.