Pittsburgh, PA
November 29, 2022
    News           Sports           Lifestyle           Classifieds           About Us
Pittsburgh Map
Home >  Sports >  Steelers Printer-friendly versionE-mail this story
Steelers Pitt goes for higher profile at Heinz Field

Wednesday, August 01, 2001

By Shelly Anderson, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Pitt can look at its move into Heinz Field for home football games as a plus in a lot of areas and on several levels. Leave it to a player, though, to boil it down to a basic element.

"Grass," said Panthers defensive end Bryan Knight.

"Grass is probably the biggest impact. Playing on grass is like playing when you're a little kid back in the day in the back yard, like nothing can hurt you."

Knight's delight over the natural playing field just scratches the surface of the emotions being felt at the university in connection with the move into Heinz Field, which is operated by the Steelers.

From the top down, a lot of folks at Pitt are giddy over the prospects, citing everything from the physical aspects of the stadium to expected gains in revenue and recruiting to an increased sense of belonging within the city.

"This is a visible sign of a community on the move," Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg said. "About all we need now is 60,000 people and lots of wins by the Panthers and Steelers."

Heinz Field might play a role in whether Pitt can continue to win. The Panthers, coming off of a 7-5 season with a bowl trip, see the new stadium as a way to attract top players and a lot of fans.

"It's already had a big impact on recruiting players," said Coach Walt Harris, who this summer got a verbal commitment from a top prospect, quarterback Tyler Palko of West Allegheny High School.

"I think going to the new stadium shows without a doubt in recruits' eyes and their parents' eyes that we are making a commitment, that the University of Pittsburgh wants to be a major player again. We couldn't do that where we were. Now it's up to us to get the job done."

In fact, there might be extra pressure to keep the program on the rise.

Even Nordenberg has high expectations. He pointed out that in addition to coming off of a winning season, the Panthers have received several preseason honors and seem to be clicking under Harris.

"Everything seems to be coming together," Nordenberg said. "When you combine those, we really do have an opportunity to have a memorable season."

Along the way, Harris said, fans will be able to enjoy the experience more than they did in outdated Pitt Stadium for 74 years or even in Three Rivers Stadium last season.

"I think our fans are going to be treated in a way that they won't believe," he said. "Traffic, parking, the walk to the stadium, concessions, bathrooms, seat backs, a place to put your drinks -- it's the whole shebang."

The fans will be on top of the action, too. Because Heinz is a football-only venue, the seats are much closer to the field than they were at Pitt Stadium, a bowl-shaped building with a track ringing the field.

"This stadium will be great for the players and the fans," Pitt linebacker Gerald Hayes said. "When the fans are on you and they're your fans, it makes it more fun. When the fans are far back, it makes it less intense."

Unlike Pitt Stadium, Heinz Field has luxury boxes and club seating. The student section will be in the northwest corner -- a change from the original plan of using the southwest corner -- and will have general admission and, for the first time, reserved seating.

Pitt has its own locker room at Heinz Field, and the Panthers are promising that game days will still be a Pitt production.

"The fear is that it's the Steelers' stadium, I think," Harris said.

It won't be on roughly six Saturdays a year for at least the next 30 years, Panthers Athletic Director Steve Pederson said.

"Inside the bowl of the stadium, when people see it, they're really going to understand what we're talking about -- from the wall padding to the signage to the re-creation of our retired jersey banners," he said. "On those days, it's going to be our stadium."

There was some resistance when Pederson and Nordenberg first devised and pushed for the idea of demolishing Pitt Stadium, moving the football team into a new practice facility on the South Side and into Heinz Field for games, and building a new basketball arena on the campus site of Pitt Stadium.

Nordenberg understands that, but he's confident that he and Pederson will be proven right.

"This was a big break with tradition," he said. "This was a significant change. I think anyone's first impression would be one of caution, if not opposition. There may be some people out there who are still doubters. I doubt there will be any left once they get to experience Panthers football in the new facility.

"This is part of a process of putting together the best sport facilities in the country."

Nordenberg and Pederson said any doubts they might have had about moving football games off campus were erased last year, when Pitt played in now-razed Three Rivers on the North Shore.

The Panthers averaged 40,868 in announced attendance, and Pederson said the 9,000 student tickets sold per game were the most in several years.

"For some, our biggest victory last year was against Penn State," said Nordenberg, referring to a 12-0 Panthers win. "For me, the biggest victory was the student reaction to game-day at Three Rivers Stadium."

Besides, Pederson said, the numbers just wouldn't crunch if things had stayed the same. At Heinz Field, Pitt will pay rent to the Steelers but will earn money through ticket sales and a cut of concession and luxury box money. Details of that arrangement have not been divulged, but Pederson said it will result in substantial revenue for the school.

"This certainly gives us a chance to have a dramatic increase in our revenue," he said. "It was going to be almost impossible in Pitt Stadium to ever have much of any financial gains because we just couldn't serve people. We're very well equipped in Oakland to handle 12,000 people at a basketball game. We're not equipped to handle 40,000 at a football game very well.

"Plus, it really wasn't going to benefit us to sit in an old stadium in Oakland. What we've done is put ourselves in the mainstream of the city. It puts our program right in the heart of the city. We really become part of what's happening on the weekends as the city grows and expands."

Back to top Back to top E-mail this story E-mail this story
Search | Contact Us |  Site Map | Terms of Use |  Privacy Policy |  Advertise | Help |  Corrections