2022 Backyard Brawl breaks attendance record for Pittsburgh sporting events

Written By Antonio Rossetti, Co-Sports Editor


A sea of blue stormed Acrisure Stadium on Thursday, September 1 for College Gameday in Pittsburgh. The long-awaited game comes after 11 years of the two teams not playing. Last Thursday, the Backyard Brawl returned and Pittsburgh and West Virginia renewed their rivalry.

Nonetheless, this year’s Backyard Brawl was different. Through the years, there have been extraordinary events that took place in Heinz Field including Ben Roethlisberger’s last regular football game, the 2005, 2008, and 2010 AFC Championship games, which sent the Steelers to the Super Bowl, and the return of the Pitt and Penn State rivalry in 2016.

There were many historic events, but nothing matches up to the 2022 Backyard Brawl. 70,622 fans filtered into the stadium, breaking the record for the biggest crowd in Acrisure Stadium history, including when it was named Heinz Field.

Cal Adomitis, former captain for the Pitt Panthers and rookie long snapper for the Cincinnati Bengals, attended the game. Adomitis was a member of the 2021 ACC Championship team and also experienced rivalry games when he and the Panthers took on Penn State.

Adomitis watched the game from the sideline with his field pass. ESPN’s College Football Gameday traveled to Pittsburgh for the event and Adomitis saw a football program poised and prepared for the national spotlight.

“The importance of it was definitely on full display this week,” Adomitis said in an interview with The Globe. “It was the culmination of the college football kickoff and gameday. Pittsburgh was the center of the college football world for that day, and honestly, I’d argue the weekend as well, so I think just having that type of rivalry on that type of stage was just a huge thing for both programs.”

The 2022 Backyard Brawl was very competitive. The game had 7 lead changes throughout and Pitt would hang on, winning 38-31. The game also drew the attention of the entire country as 3.15 million people watched the game from their TV’s according to ESPN PR.

“From the uniforms of both teams to how Acrisure Stadium looked on television with the sea of blue and the stands with the gold seats, the whole thing just looked awesome,” Adomitis said. “I think a lot of people were captivated by this game this weekend.”

Pitt defensive back AJ Woods started for the Panthers and was a huge part of the team’s success in their ACC Championship win last season. He loved the support the team received from the fans.

“The atmosphere at the stadium was amazing,” Woods said. “By far one of the best crowds I have gotten the opportunity to play in front of and it makes it even more awesome to know that we were able to break an attendance record. Games like this are the games a lot of my teammates dream of playing in. I feel as if the renewal of the backyard brawl is so important for not only us but the fans too so to come out there and get a win in a close game like that meant the world for us.”

One of those fans attending the game was Dean Billick who was the Sports Information Director and eventually the Associative Athletic Director at the University of Pittsburgh from 1966-1993. He helped with the Heisman campaigns for Tony Dorsett who won the Heisman in 1976, Hugh Green who came in 2nd in 1980, and Dan Marino who came in 7th, but had a Hall of Fame college career and went on to have a Hall of Fame NFL career.

Billick witnessed his fair share of Pitt football memories and he considers the 2022 Backyard Brawl his favorite of the WVU and Pitt rivalry.

“I would rank it in the Top 3 I have personally witnessed in Pittsburgh which includes the Pitt Penn State game 6 years ago in Heinz Field, the Pitt Penn State game in 1976 in Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh; and this year’s Brawl this past Thursday night,” Billick wrote in an email to the Globe.

The 2022 Backyard Brawl is a game he puts up there with rest. With a tight game and a dramatic finish, this was an instant classic for fans everywhere. Billick also compared the games electricity to being close to the 1976 National Championship.

“I would also like to add a 4th game as to electricity even though this game was not in Pittsburgh, it was the 1976 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans when Pitt defeated Georgia, 27-3, to win the National Championship,” Billick wrote. “That’s my list of 4 games where I believe I have been blessed to be a part of. Hard to pick between those four, but last week’s Brawl is pretty hard to beat.”

The Backyard Brawl is always unpredictable, including Pitt defeating the Mountaineers in 2007, spoiling their chances at the National Championship. Pitt leads the all-time series at 62-40-3, but WVU notched some key victories too, including a 17-14 win in 1975 off of a game-winning field goal by walk-on Bill Mckenzie. This is a game that Billick remembers that left him with an empty feeling.

Billick does have his list of games he enjoyed, but the games Pitt wins are among the best for him.

“Although the National Championship Sugar Bowl clearly had the most at stake for Pitt, take your pick,” Billick wrote. “As for me, I liked all 4 of them [the previously mentioned games]… Notice they were all Pitt wins, too,” Billick wrote, adding that“winning does matter.”

The rivalry contains many memories for WVU and Pitt. For the Mountaineers, they had the last laugh for 11 years, winning in 2011 21-20 with Geno Smith and Tavon Austin leading the way. West Virginia also has fond memories of when Rasheed Marshall, a Brashear High School grad, led the Mountaineers to a 24-17 victory against Pitt and in 1983, Jeff Hostetler led the Mountaineers 90 yards with less than two minutes left to defeat the Panthers 24-21.

As for Pitt, LeSean McCoy rushed for 148 yards, leading Pitt to a 13-9 win as 28.5 point underdog, winning 13-9 in 2007, ending WVU national championship hopes. In 1997, pete Gonzalez hit Terry Murphy for six in 3 overtimes, winning 41-38 and in 1976, Pitt would win 24-16 and then go on to win the Sugar Bowl and National title.

For Adomitis, his most memorable moment watching on TV was the Darelle Revis 73-yard punt return in 2006.

He now has a new memory that can be added to that list and that was MJ Devonshire’s 56-yard Pick 6. This time it was his first time experiencing the Backyard Brawl in person.

“He’s a kid that’s worked super hard and he was always just a steady worker, during my years at Pitt,” Adomitis said. “It’s awesome to see with him being a Pittsburgh kid from Aliquippa. Obviously, he went to Kentucky out of high school but now that he’s coming back to Pitt and having his success here is just awesome.”

Devonshire was in the right place at the right time and made the play when the pass from JT Daniels to Bryce Ford-Wheaton went right through his hands and into the possession of Devonshire. It was a track race from there and the Pittsburgh native took it to the house, taking the lead 38-31 with under three minutes to play.

“When I saw MJ return that interception, I was beyond happy because a couple of drives before I told him he was gonna be the one to make the play to turn the game around,” Woods said. “To see it come true was a great moment that will be remembered forever.”

Woods seeing his teammate become an icon with the already infamous “Pitt 6” in the WVU vs. Pitt rivalry was an awesome feeling, but was also an incredible moment for all the fans in attendance and those watching at home.

“The game this year did fill the stadium, and that was sure fun to witness,” Billick wrote. “The Pitt 6 absolutely electrified the stadium crowd, me included. And by the way, there is no question it was a 90% Pitt crowd.”

Billick also mentioned that next year, the Mountaineer fans will fill their stadium, similar to how Pitt did, and then Pitt fans wil

l fill the stadium at Acrisure Stadium in 2024, packing the place with a sea of blue.

Adomitis sees this rivalry and Panthers turnout as Pitt returning to their glory days.

“It shows that the city rallies behind Pitt,” Adomitis said. “Obviously there have been ups and downs in recent history with Pitt football, but I think the excitement and the buzz around Pitt football and what these teams can do and what we did last year and what coach Narduzzi’s teams can do is really starting to get a foothold in the city.”

Adomitis is excited about

what the future holds.

“It’s really starting to make the city believe that the 70s and 80s weren’t at the end of the glory for Pitt football. There seems to be some glory years coming back around now and just it’s an exciting time to be a fan and a Pitt player and a Pitt supporter just a Pitt person altogether.”