By Michael Lewis
Sometimes I have to remind my working colleagues, friends and even family that I did not come out of the womb covering soccer.
In fact, before yours truly fell in love with the beautiful game, I had many great loves in sports, including baseball, football, basketball and hockey. Soccer came later, a year into my professional writing career.
Back in the day, there was no such thing as a fulltime soccer writer at many newspapers. Once you were finished with the season, which ran from April through perhaps the beginning of the season, you went onto to cover other sports, whether it was hockey or college.
That worked out perfectly for me because outside of the soccer seasons I covered hockey and colleges.
In 1981, I was assigned the college beat on the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. That meant writing about Syracuse University football and basketball, plus several Rochester colleges.
After visiting my in-laws in Cleveland for Thanksgiving, my wife and I ventured to Pittsburgh for the big eastern football game that weekend — between top-ranked Pittsburgh and No. 11 Penn State — in Pittsburgh. I remember parking my car at the bottom of a steep hill, walking it up to the stadium.
Pitt had rolled up a 14-0 lead early in the second period as the game was ready to become a rout early on. It did eventually, but the team that was leading went downhill quite quickly as the Nittany Lions (9-2) struck for 48 unanswered points — 34 in the second half to upend previously unbeaten Pitt (10-1) in front of 60,260 spectators in Pitt Stadium.
“This is it. This is the season,” Penn State All-America guard Sean Farrell said. “This is the biggest win of the season. This is the one we wanted.”
The Panthers joined five other teams that lost while being ranked No. 1 that season – Michigan, Notre Dame, Southern California, Texas and Penn State.
Two weeks prior, Pitt dealt PSU head coach Joe Paterno his biggest defeat of the season and perhaps of his career by deciding not to join his proposed eastern all-sports conference. Pitts’s refusal to join was a serious setback for Paterno’s venture.
Paterno refused to say it the blowout was vengeance on the field.
“Absolutely not,” he replied. “I don’t like to be cast as a spoiler. You have a bunch of kids in there [the locker room] who wanted to beat Pitt. I don’t like what wen on in the newspapers this week [stories about the Pitt-Penn State rivalry. It’s a great win for the squad.”
About six weeks earlier I wrote about and probably added fuel to the fire of some controversial remarks between Paterno, who also was PSU’s athletic director, and Syracuse AD Jake Crouthamel.
Paterno had exerted pressure on Syracuse to join his proposed conference, which would include football.
“I go back when Syracuse had great football,” he told me. “I hope the day is coming when we have big, big games. I see no reason why Syracuse, with the Carrier Dome, can’t become a great team.
“If Syracuse opts not to go [in his conference], they’ll make their reputation out to be that of a basketball school. It will be reflected when they go out and recruit. We’re trying like the dickens to get them to join.”
Needless to say, Crouthamel bristled at Paterno’s remarks and essentially told his rival where to go. The Orangemen were a member of the eight-team Big East conference, which included basketball and six other sports.
“Joe Paterno loves to talk about Syracuse. The next time you talk to Joe Paterno, tell him that Syracuse University is none of his business,” Crouthamel told me.
“There has to be a clarification of a couple of things that Paterno has indicted us on. If Syracuse doesn’t join the conference, we are a basketball school. That’s totally absurd. We would join a football conference. You need a full conference to accommodate football.”