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Holliday is No Stranger To Rivalry

November 28, 2008

MORGANTOWN - No fewer than 10 members of the current West Virginia University football staff have coached against the Pitt Panthers.

Half of those also have played in what's known as the Backyard Brawl and are preparing the Mountaineers for the 101st meeting between the ancient adversaries on Friday at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field.

So, make no mistake, there's no one associated with the program that doesn't know how important this rivalry is. Probably the same could be said for Dave Wannstedt and his Pitt staff.

John "Doc" Holliday, who participated in 25 consecutive WVU-Pitt games as first a player and then longtime coach, thinks it's truly one of the nation's greatest as well as oldest rivalries.

"It always has been right up there among the best," the associate head coach said the other night. "It is a fun game to play. Both teams always are excited about playing."

Holliday also has been involved in two other collegiate rivalries. He served short stints at North Carolina State and Florida before returning to his alma mater this year as new head coach Bill Stewart's top assistant.

WVU-Pitt is like Florida-Florida State and perhaps N.C. State-North Carolina. Others also might compare it to Ohio State-Michigan, Southern Cal-UCLA and others.

"It's just a great thing," the Hurricane native said. "Any time you get schools that close to each other, there's passion among your fans.

"This has to be one of college football's top rivalries. It's really unique."

To be true rivalry, however, there must be comparable competitiveness on both sides. And there were stretches in this series that Pitt was very dominant.

Most memorable was the dry spell from 1929 through 1946 when West Virginia lost 15 games in a row to the Panthers. It started after a 9-6 victory in 1928 when Ira Errett Rodgers was the head coach and ended with a 17-2 win in 1947 in Bill Kern's last game as Mountaineer mentor.

Kern had told his team before the kickoff that he had resigned.

Holliday, who was a linebacker, recalled that Pitt had such all-time greats as Tony Dorsett, Dan Marino and Hugh Green when he was a player.

"Dorsett ran around us a lot and I never could catch him," he said.

"We beat them here in 1975 on that game-ending field goal. That was a great game. The next year, when they won the national championship, we lost to them up there by just a touchdown."

He has a lot of great memories, along with some not-so-great, but he is pleased to have been a part of this rivalry.

"I look forward to playing this game," he said. "I think when kids come here to play football, they know the importance of the Pitt game."

Holliday thinks it's easy for the Mountaineers to prepare to play the Panthers. They pay attention and well should be paying attention if they expect to win the contest. "No question, the WVU-Pitt rivalry compares with the country's best," he reiterated. "It goes back a long time, and it has to be one of the best.

"The important thing this week has been to make sure we get our kids prepared well."



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