A wise coach once said: “You are what your record says you are.”
In the spirit of the college bowl season, let’s amend that slightly: “You go where your record tells you to go.”
For Pitt (6-6), that means a third consecutive trip Jan. 5 to historic Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala., for the BBVA Compass Bowl.
“Should (have) purchased a timeshare in Birmingham,” tweeted senior safety Andrew Taglianetti, who has been on both previous trips.
Taglianetti was joking, and his teammates made similar jocular comments last week when discussing possible bowl destinations (“Anywhere but Birmingham”; that type of thing).
But the truth is the Panthers are thankful to be going anywhere — even if it’s Birmingham. Without the bloated bowl system, which rewards 70 of 120 FBS schools with another game and a little vacation, Pitt would be going to class — or doing something equally mundane — instead of attending the nice luncheon the Compass Bowl people set up for them the day before the game.
They are all smart enough to know that if even one of their close losses (Syracuse, Notre Dame, Connecticut) was reversed, the Panthers would be going somewhere else.
My opinion: If you’re not going to a BCS Bowl, what difference does the destination make? You still get your little treat bags, free food and a chance to play on national television no matter where you go.
In Pitt’s case, the bowl experience this year will be different and better for the players because their coach won’t be elsewhere. The past two years, Pitt was led by interim coaches Phil Bennett and Keith Patterson — good, honorable men who did a fine job under the circumstances — after Dave Wannstedt was fired and Todd Graham resigned.
Last year, especially, there wasn’t much sentiment for the game against SMU, and practices were about 15 minutes long in Birmingham. (I’m exaggerating about the practices, but not by much). It was little surprise, then, that Pitt lost to a mediocre Conference USA team, 28-6.
This year, coach Paul Chryst will conduct the 15 pre-bowl practices with one eye on the opponent (Ole Miss of the SEC) and another on next year.
I know Chryst well enough to feel certain when I write these words: Pitt will not be looking for a new head coach before the bowl game, such as it did in 2010 and 2011. It has found its man, and the program is in good hands venturing into the ACC in 2013.
Chryst helped the Panthers resurrect their season three times this year, following up three two-game losing streaks with two victories in a row each time. The bowl offers them a chance to make it three and build momentum entering next spring.
Besides, the opponent and coaching staff are different and some of the players (freshmen Rushel Shell and J.P. Holtz, for example) never have played there.
Plus, 85-year-old Legion Field is a historic site.
Bear Bryant once roamed the sidelines when Alabama played home games there. A monument to the Bear stands outside the gates.
The legendary Iron Bowl — the annual game between Alabama and Auburn — was played there from 1948-1988.
Joe Namath played there as a collegian for Alabama and as a pro for the New York Jets in a regular-season game against the Boston Patriots in 1968.
The Birmingham Stallions of the USFL and the Birmingham Fire of the World League used Legion Field for home games.
To this day, Alabama-Birmingham plays its home games there.
The 1996 Atlanta Olympics used Legion Field for soccer, and once drew a record crowd of 83,810 for U.S. and Argentina.
And, then, there’s this: The media hotel has happy hour every night from 5-7 p.m. — free of charge.
What bowl do you think I was rooting for?