Pitt receiver Mike Shanahan hopes to make some history
November 1, 2012 8:00 AM
Matt Freed /Post-Gazette
Pitt receiver Mike Shanahan tries to fend off Temple's Vaughn Carraway Saturday at Heinz Field. Notre Dame is next for the Panthers.
By Gene Collier Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pitt's Mike Shanahan wasn't terribly interested in straddling academic fault lines, nor in separating one historical discipline from the next, at least not in a week when he's just trying to figure out how to get open at Notre Dame.
If the Panthers are going to spring an historic Bowl Championship Series-rattling upset Saturday in Indiana, as few outside the walls of their South Side headquarters expect, they have to get an historic performance from accomplished, veteran playmakers such as Shanahan, who happens to be a grad student with a history degree.
"My area is American history," this 6-foot-5 wideout from North Huntingdon said earlier this week. "But I studied Eastern European history, African history, history of the West Indies."
Funny thing, but I'd actually been wondering, pretty much pointlessly as usual, whether culturally various entities should be considered part of history just because they have a lengthy past.
There is, most certainly, a history of college football.
There is, just as certainly, a history of popcorn.
But does either satisfy any academic definition of history?
Is sports itself actually history, or is it trivia?
Jackie Robinson is an historical figure, as is Jesse Owens, but their sports were mere platforms for their moments in history, right?
When I outlined this for the only guy in the conversation with a history degree, he looked at me perceptively with that gaze that suggests unmistakably that I have way too much time on my hands.
Yeah Mike, I've seen that one.
More significantly then, Shanahan has no conflictions whatsoever that Pitt prevailing against an unbeaten Notre Dame team should fit anyone's definition of history.
"Definitely," he said just after practice, "it would be history. Especially for coach [Paul] Chryst in his first year here. Anytime you beat one of the top-five teams, that's special."
Since Notre Dame generally considers itself special and there is every bit of evidence that its reliable self-awareness is this fall totally justified, a soiling of the Irish's 8-0 record or a diminishment of its No. 3 position in the BCS standings would logically be, um, especially special.
Notre Dame flew to Oklahoma last week to meet a Sooners crew that had averaged 52 points in its previous three wins. The Irish allowed 13, won by 17, and featured a marauding defense led by senior linebacker Manti Te'o, causing redoubtable Notre Dame radio play-by-play man Don Criqui to blurt that Te'o is perhaps the best Irish defender since Alan Page.
Hey, if he says so.
I know that Te'o's fourth-quarter interception in Norman came in a burst of Polamalu-esque athleticism, just as I know that Criqui's analysis carries more credibility these days than that of broadcast partner Allen Pinkett, who got himself suspended for the season's first three games for saying that a good college football team needs its share of criminals.
Out loud on the radio.
"No mass murderers or rapists," he said.
Just to clarify. Much appreciated.
I guess just general street crime is what you're looking for.
Pinkett apologized and is back in the university's good graces, but that's about the last thing anyone associated with the best Notre Dame team in at least 10 years has had to apologize for.
If no one comes up with a way to beat the Irish between here and the holidays, it'll be hard to keep Notre Dame out of the national championship game because its strength of schedule appears to be superior to BCS Nos. 1 and 2, Alabama and Kansas State. If the Irish get there, there will be no mystery as to their methodology.
"That defense is what stands out," Shanahan said without hesitation. "Particularly the front seven, all swarming to the ball. They're mostly a 3-4 team but they play a lot of different ways, and Manti Te'o is a great player. It's difficult to play against them."
Pitt dearly needs someone to endure precisely that difficulty and to overcome it Saturday. Since Shanahan is one of Chryst's first Pitt captains, and since Shanahan's college career has been such that only four humans have caught more passes in a Panthers uniform (Latef Grim, Antonio Bryant, Larry Fitzgerald and Dietrich Jells if you must know), it follows that challenges such as these fall to his auspices.
"We have a lot of young players who have to follow the lead of the seniors; I definitely think that's right, but the only thing we can do is just keep preparing," Shanahan said. "The key thing is to do everything a little bit better this week. That is still the approach you want to take.
"My personality is laid back. It isn't to get everyone all excited. But I think I can provide a sense of calmness about this."
In the shadow of the Golden Dome, as they typically say with mandatory referential import, calm is good. Playmaking is good. Leadership is real good, the kind of leadership Pitt can only get from players such as Shanahan.
Those are the things that will line the road to history.