Friday, September 30, 2011

Destinations: Dodger Stadium

I was recently on assignment in Los Angeles, California to cover the Pittsburgh Pirates game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. This was my first trip to the State of California and I wanted to share my travel experiences with any baseball enthusiasts thinking of visiting Dodger Stadium.
Downtown Los Angeles as seen from the Dodger Stadium parking lot
After a day at Santa Monica Beach a noncontributing/nonreading Blast Furnace friend and I packed into our “economical” Chevy Aveo rental car and made our way to Dodger Stadium. We kept hearing about the nightmare that is Los Angeles traffic so we left for the game around 4:30 pm. The 14 mile drive from our hotel near Century City wasn’t as bad as I expected, the traffic moved along at a steady pace and we were able to exit off to Dodger Stadium in about 45 minutes. We traveled up a long winding road that brought us to a massive parking lot and there built into the hillside of Chavez Ravine Dodger Stadium appeared. Parking was easy becuase Dodger fans have a reputation of arriving late to games. The lot offered a breathtaking view of downtown LA. We had ample time before the game started so we decided to explore the stadium. First we climbed to the top of the stadium and snapped pictures of the beautiful skyline that featured palm trees and the San Gabriel Mountains. Dodger Stadium is a massive five level structure that holds 56,000 people which is the largest in Major League Baseball. The upper deck is very steep similar to the old Yankee Stadium. We made our way to the team store which was packed with Dodger apparel. I was somewhat disappointed in the team store, it lacked the knick knacks that I like to bring home as souvenirs.
View from atop Dodger Stadium
As game time approached we found our seats in the Loge Box on the first base line and were ready for the game. Our seats were very good, about seven rows behind the Pirates dugout. There were several Pirates fans there which wasn’t surprising considering Pittsburgh fans show up everywhere. Unfortunately I left my Bucco hat in the car, was ashamed at my decision, and ended up wearing the USC LA cap giveaway instead. The game started off with a bang. Struggling Pirates pitcher Ross Ohlendorf hit a three run homer that stunned Dodger fans and the Pirates took a commanding lead. While watching the game I noticed a familiar looking blond woman sitting in the front row, it looked to be Elisabeth Shue, made famous by her role as “Ali with an i” from Karate Kid and more recently in a guest staring role in Curb Your Enthusiasm. As the game went on the LA night grew chilly and what better way to warm up then eating a famous food staple: the Dodger Dog. The Dodger Dog was a little bigger than your average stadium hot dog and best topped with the condiments of relish and onions. The ‘dog' was delicious, it wasn’t an “Original” hot dog, but it was the best stadium hot dog that I have ever eaten. The rest of the food options at the concession stands were nothing to write home about. PNC Park is light years ahead of most of the other MLB parks I have attended in this aspect. Dodgers fans lived up to their reputation by arriving late to the game. The fans were not unruly and I felt safe the entire time despite warnings due to the Bryan Stow incident. After nearly blowing a big lead late in the game, the Pirates prevailed, winning 6-2.
View of the first pitch from our seats
I really enjoyed my trip to Dodger Stadium, a place I’ve always wanted to visit. The picturesque view made for a perfect backdrop for the game. I would have to rank it in my top five ballparks that I have visited alongside PNC Park, Fenway Park, Oriole Park at Camden Yards and Old Tiger Stadium (yes, it was old and rundown, but it had character). Even though the stadium is the third oldest in baseball it was still in great shape and I recommend it to any baseball fan as a must see place to watch a game.
Other Blast Furnace stadium reviews: Cleveland's Progressive Park

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Igloo: End of an Era

The Civic Arena
According to the Tribune-Review, demolition has begun on the Civic Arena today.   It marks the end of an era for a familiar Pittsburgh landmark, which has stood in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh for over 50 years.

The Arena was constructed in 1961, originally for the use of the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera.  However, it expanded its events to include many events, including the circus, concerts and of course, the Penguins.

It also was known for its retractable steel roof, the largest in the world supported by a single steel beam, which would open on certain occasions.  In fact, my parents remember attending an Alabama concert where the roof opened up, allowing a glimpse of the night sky.

The Pittsburgh Penguins were the main habitants of the Igloo, and provided many entertaining nights to yinzers far and wide.  Hockey greats like Michel Briere, Rick Kehoe, Kevin Stevens, Larry Murphy and Mario Lemieux all played and delighted Penguin fans for many years at the Igloo.  The Arena also introduced Pittsburgh to fan favorites like Slippery Rock Joey Mullen, Downtown Robbie Brown, Frankie Leroux and Zarley Zalapski.  I could list many more, but it would take too long to name them all.

Although efforts were made to save the arena by labeling it as a historic landmark, those efforts have finally been put down for good, and the arena is coming down.  Most fans will have to rely only on memories and pictures to remember the large, domed arena.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment was the announcement that the Igloo will be demolished by ball and chain, rather than implosion.  Grumblings have been heard from many moustached yinzers, who were anticipating a large tailgate party to celebrate the impending 'plosion.

The 'plosion parties have been canceled, but the Igloo is still coming down.  Goodnight, sweet prince.  Thanks for the memories.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Pittsburgh 'Sax Guy' Really Blows

Pittsburgh has it's fair share of local "celebrities" including Matrix Man and the late Lemonade Guy, but one Pittsburgh "celebrity" that seems to divide the Burgh is "The Sax Guy" or as few people know him as Hill District Native, Reggie Howzie.

According to a 2010 Post Gazette article Reggie Howzie has been playing the saxophone at local events since 1998. After learning that the esteemed Mr. Howzie has bounced from job to job it is not a surprise based on less less than amicable antics before and after sporting events. Sax Guy was seemingly a great addition to the game-day atmosphere when he began. Even though his saxophone skills are well below average his attempt to bring spirit to games was appreciated. I would always make sure to drop him some coins until a transformation took place. I remember walking to a Pirate game circa 2003 when an innocent appreciator of his tunes tossed some coins into his open sax case, but unfortunately missed thus hitting Sax Guy in the leg accidentally. Sax Guy abruptly jumped down from his Clemente bridge post ran after the guy, screamed expletives at him for "throwing something at sax guy", and then punched the man in the back. This is where Sax Guy went from being a nice addition to a game-day nuisance at best.

Since "the incident" it seems like Sax Guy does his best to annoy and intimidate the very people that he hopes to receive donations from. Sax Guy changed his role from playing some simple tunes to heckling those who pass by. You can be sure that Sax Guy will make fun of Pittsburgh teams and their fans and never miss the opportunity to rub it in if the local team losses. He also is sure to make fun of people as they walk by and the reaction is usually an uncomfortable laugh from the crows an an occasional person will drop money into his sax case because they feel pressured to do so after he calls you out and makes fun of you. What a con to make you feel guilty after being made fun of. It seems that the more he speaks the more my resentment towards him grows. Maybe, he thinks he is a comedian? Well, even comedians don't rip on the crowd unless they are heckled. Sax Guy needs to keep quiet and just play music.

Although I don't think too highly of Sax Guy there are many people he love him. Apparently the is a "I love the Saxophone Guy on the Clemente Bridge" facebook page with at least 1000 members. I guess the division that he causes is one of his charms and why people have idolized the Sax Guy.

I thought that I would close with some tips for the Sax Guy:
1. Take some sax lessons so you actually know how to play.
2. Play more than one part of a song over and over.
3. Don't heckle people, that won't help you get tips.
4. In fact, don't talk at all.
5. Support the local teams.

So, whether you like him or not, the Sax Guy is a permanent fixture at local sporting events. Enjoy, ignore, or avoid the Sax Guy that really blows.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Joe Paterno at a recent press conference, praising recent ACC acquisitions
Did anybody hear Penn State's press conference the other day? When Paterno was asked about the conferences realigning, he surprised everyone by basically saying, "who knows where Penn State ought to end up."

I was kind of searching the internet reading about Pitt and Syracuse moving to the ACC, and came across some articles talking about Joe Paterno's desire (and large push for) PSU's entrance into the ACC back in the 80s. The ACC was Paterno's first choice before PSU joined the Big Ten.  Basically, he wanted an ACC that would stretch the entire Atlantic coast; obviously that didnt occur at that time. Now, it has actually happened.

Penn State's Curley and Spanier immediately came out and said that Penn State is happy in the Big Ten and not leaving, shooting down what Paterno said. (And possibly showing their growing desire to push Paterno out). But you have to wonder why on earth Paterno would say such a thing. If Penn State were to move to the ACC, they would be playing the same teams they used to in the independent days -- Maryland, Pitt, 'Cuse.... and Notre Dame.

If Notre Dame goes to the ACC, I believe Penn State will be right there with them. Notre Dame's contract with NBC runs out in 2015, and if the ACC can come up with a new TV deal with NBC along with its already lucrative ESPN deal, that could be pretty convincing.

Who knows what will happen with the Big East, despite what their comissioner has been saying. If it falls, Notre Dame is left without a basketball conference, setting up its need to be invited into a conference. I do not think any conference will allow Notre Dame to enter just with its basketball team. Similarly, I believe Notre Dame would most likely go to the Big Ten if they are by themselves, but if Penn State is looking to make a move, I could see them both going to the ACC.

Geographically, it makes no sense for Penn State to be in the Big Ten. And if Paterno's thoughts reflect the administrations thoughts on the matter at all, some interesting things could be occuring.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Heinz Revolutionizes Food...Again

Just when you thought that there could be no new technology in the individual serving condiment business Heinz comes through with a winner. Heinz has developed a new single serving ketchup packet that makes it easier for you to get started eating both quicker and more cleanly. The new ketchup packet will be test run in a few fast food restaurants in order to gauge consumer response.

I for one love this idea. I always hate how it is so difficult to open a package and although I almost never eat in my car I would have to suffer with a bland condimentless meal because it was either use condiments or crash my car. Not only do I like this for that reason, but also because now my hands won't be messy simply from opening the packet. A clean squirt is all that I have wanted for years. Finally, I hope that this technology is available for all condiments because I really hate squirting my condiments on paper or the cheap place-mat and then dipping my food.

The only question that I have is: Why did it take 3 years to develop this 'technology'? The last advancements were eco-friendly bottles, the upside down clean squeeze bottle, and the infamous multi-colored ketchup.

Cheers to Heinz and another hit bringing more pride to Pittsburgh again.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

ACC Accepts Pitt and Syracuse

ACC Commissioner John Swofford announces that Pitt and Syracuse have officially been accepted by the ACC. This will be a very exciting time for the University of Pittsburgh and for fans of the program and for ACC fans. Chancellor Mark Nordenberg is very excited with the move.

One rumor that I am very happy about concerns the basketball side of the move. The ACC commented that there are talks to move the ACC Tournament to Madison Square Garden. In my opinion this solidifies that idea that convincing Pitt and Syracuse basketball was the linchpin in this deal. Keeping the NYC basketball pipeline to both programs plus adding the recruiting hot-bed of the DC Metro area and playing UNC and Duke every year will keep top recruits going to both programs. In addition, I can not wait to 'boo' both UNC and Duke as I hate both programs, especially the coaches and the thousands of fans who attended neither school, but proclaim themselves as 'die-hards'. I hope both teams tough styles dominate the hardwood and prove the supremacy of their programs over the media darlings.

On the football side I am most excited to get some top-notch programs on the schedule and visiting Heinz Field every other year. Some great road trips could also be added as I would love to see a game at Florida State, but also because many schools are drivable and close to some tourist destinations. This will hopefully add many season ticket holders from Pitt alumni, curious fans, and ACC alumni as well.

Let's see how this move will change Pitt's future and the future of NCAA football in the coming months.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Pitt and Syracuse to ACC?

The New York Times has reported that Pitt and Syracuse are in talks to join the ACC. Following this report ESPN has reported that at least 10 schools have approached the ACC to join the conference. It seems like it was just a matter of time before Super Conferences were created and because football is king, basketball schools will be left in the cold.

The ACC currently has 12 members which include the former Big East schools Virginia Tech, Boston College, and Miami. From a purely Pitt perspective I see this move as necessary rather than hoped for considering the present and future landscape of college football. From a football only perspective this move is great. The Big East was clearly one of the weaker football conferences so this will help secure that Pitt has a strong in-conference schedule and could keep rivalries with Big East schools such as West Virginia if both sides want to.

The basketball perspective is where I am disappointed. The Big East is clearly THE BEST basketball conference in the country with classic schools and rivalries, the hot new teams, and nothing compares to the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden. The ACC is a step below the Big East, but I am sure that coaches Jamie Dixon and Jim Boeheim were consulted and decided to go in together as a package deal for ACC basketball. This will be fun to see Duke and North Carolina every year and Pitt and Syracuse could dominate ACC basketball as all four programs are neck and neck as perennial powers. Big East basketball will take over the ACC just as Big East football took over ACC football when VT, Miami, and BC jumped ship a few years ago.

This plan is definitely a positive for Pitt and Syracuse football, but basketball will never be the same. It is clear that football is king and it was just a matter of time before Pitt would have to make their move. Let's see how this story develops in the coming days.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Prediction time: NFL!

It's a week late on this post, just enough time for odd ball stuff to happen and make everyone crazily overreact and bias your picks. The Steelers got their butt kicked, Peyton Manning is paralyzed or something, and Washington, Detroit and Buffalo all looked good in opening wins. So, without further ado, let's make some predictions. Here's mine, leave yours in the comments. We'll revisit at the end of the season to declare a winner.

AFC North: Steelers (too easy to say the Steelers are done at this point)
AFC South: Texans (without Peyton, I don't see who else can win this divison)
AFC East: Patriots (fuckers)
AFC West: Chargers (11-5, #3 seed, lose 1st round playoff game sound right?)
AFC WC: Ravens (my chalk picks are getting on my own nerves)
AFC WC: Jets (if I had balls, I'd pick Oakland here. Campbell is as good as Sanchez)
NFC North: Packers (you know, they didn't even win their division last year)
NFC South: Saints (I hate picking them as much as I hate picking the Patriots.)
NFC East: Eagles (Vick, Vick, Vick, Vick, Vick, Vick, Vick, Vick)
NFC West: Rams (gotta nuke something)
NFC WC: Falcons (despite my disdain for Matty Ice, I gotta think that, like the Steelers, their early loss was just a speedbump on way to playoffs)
NFC WC: Lions (I've got Stafford on both my fantasy teams, so I'm willing them to the playoffs)
AFC Champs: Patriots (boooooo!)
NFC Champs: Eagles (Vick rules, you all suck)
Super Bowl Champs: Eagles (Did I mention that I like Vick? I think he passes for 300, rushes for 150 in Super Bowl)

MVP: Michael Vick
Offensive POY: Ray Rice
Defensive POY: Ndamukong Suh

I hate my own picks. No way 8 of 12 playoff teams from last year go again this year. Someone is going to surprise us, but I can't figure out who it is. All I know is that I fully expect Vick to have that one perfect season at some point, win the Super Bowl and go down in history for one of those years that almost no one ever matches. If it's going to happen, why not this year?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

I think I'd just keep this to myself

If this had happened to me, I would just go home and hope nobody found out about it. For all you guys downtown, if you happen to see someone who matches this description, make sure you let the police know:

Police were searching for a one-legged man in a wheelchair who they said attacked and tried to rob another man early this morning near the Greyhound bus station Downtown.

Read more at the Post-Gazette.

Update: Sleep easy, city dwellers. The one-legged bandit has been arrested. I hope they didn't confuse him with any other one-legged, 21-year-old man who hangs out at the bus station.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Small Private School Celebrates

Winchester Thurston School celebrates it's 125th Anniversary this school year.  In 1887, Alice Maud Thurston founded Thurston School and Mary Graham Mitchell founded Winchester School in 1902.  The two schools merged in 1935 and was named Winchester Thurston School.  Winchester Thurston is located on Morewood Ave in Shadyside and provides education to 650 pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students.  There is also a North Hills campus that houses 100 pre-k - fifth grade students.  Winchester Thurston's annual tuition ranges from $7,200 for pre-kindergarten to $24,600 for high school
Namesakes? No, but...M*A*S*H's Major Charles Emerson Winchester III and Gilligan's Island's Thurston B. Howell, III
Why is the Blast Furnace writing about Winchester Thurston School you ask?  Well it all goes back to the spring of 1999 when BF members were late-night dining in the South Park Eat'n Park when a high school acquaintance walked in dressed in a tuxedo.  Anyone who walks into an Eat'n Park dressed this formally deserves immediate attention so naturally we ask this gentleman why he is so dressed up.  In his best WASPy Boston Brahmin accent he tells us, "I just came from the prom at Winchester Thurston, it's a small private school.  You've probably never heard of it."  Well, excuse us!  He was right that we had never heard of it; we obviously were not a part of Pittsburgh's high society in his mind.  And here we thought our school district was pretty good, but we were obviously mistaken.  Whatever happened to this WASP, you wonder?  He apparently spews conservative rhetoric on facebook.  I'm not sure where he works but I'm sure he is in the upper crust laughing at all the rest of us.  He did give us a good laugh and fond memories because every time we drive by the Winchester Thurston campus we do our best impression of the conversation from that memorable night.

Disclaimer:  This article has no intention of denigrating Winchester Thurston School, students or donors.  It is a very fine school with a rich tradition of academic excellence that Pittsburgh is lucky to have.  The gentleman described above was never a student and had no affiliation with the school.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Pittsburgh RibFest Underwhelms and Infuriates

Pittsburgh is replete with traditions.  For instance, native Pittsburghers view the city skyline from Mount Washington approximately every 15 years or so with their visiting out-of-town relatives.  And who can forget never shopping in the North Hills if you are from the South Hills? Why do we continue these traditions?  The only reason most of us can think of is that we do them because we have always done them that way.  Worthwhile or not, we will continue to do things because it is our tradition.  I guess that explains the existence of the Pittsburgh Ribfest.
You may never have attended the Pittsburgh RibFest before due to your busy schedule filled with more important activities.  For instance, you may have just painted your bedroom and needed to watch the paint dry.  For those “not in the know”, and by this I mean “in the know”, the Pittsburgh RibFest is held annually over the Labor Day weekend and is located next to Heinz Field.   The festival, and I use that word loosely, is comprised primarily of food booths where you can sample surprisingly expensive barbecue fare after you have stood in line for the better part of your lifetime.  
One of the best parts of the RibFest, other than leaving it, is getting snarled in a sea of sweaty human bodies trying to move through the gauntlet of closely placed booths.  You often hear the word “bottleneck” to describe a narrow passageway, or a stage in a process where progress is impeded.  To call the Ribfest a “bottleneck” would be like calling the neighborhood of Shadyside “mostly white”.  If you are attending the Rib fest with children, it is best to equip them with flare guns so they will be able to signal you after they inevitably become separated from you.
RibFests, and other fests of their ilk, have large towering signage on the front of their food booths, most likely to entice potential customers with their fanciful designs in that post-tornado/hurricane style.  Booths boast of blue ribbon barbecue recipes and their illustrious winnings in so-called taste tests and competitions which are most likely in every way actually real.  I am sure the “folksy” nature of these booths is all well and good in the South or on the NASCAR circuit where these rib fests originated, but as a native Pittsburgher, I found it to be just a little bit too cerebral.

To avoid annoyingly long waits for food on an empty stomach, it is best to eat at home before you make your way to the RibFest.   When you do decide to stand in line for food, I suggest that you guess blindly at where you are supposed to wait to place your order.  When you do arrive at the front of the line and are ready to order, you may wish to first shave off your old-man beard, and then enjoy your front-row view as you watch a large number of people working feverishly preparing barbecue, none of whom seem to have any sense of urgency to take your order or make eye contact with you.  I hope you brought your wallet with you, because this kind of service and cuisine does not come cheap.  Yes, they do take money.

In addition to the food, the RibFest also offers booths to tempt shopaholics.  In addition to the Shopahol booth, visitors can purchase $10 sunglasses and sign up for unlimited texting with T-Mobile.  In other words, the shopping possibilities have very real and obvious limits.  But who needs shopping when you can simply come to a dead stop in the middle of a crowded sidewalk?

The Ribfest will undoubtedly continue to be an annual tradition, like it or not.  But we shouldn’t waste time and energy hoping for more widely spaced out booths, or more area for pedestrian traffic.  We should just enjoy it and take advantage of the opportunity to spend some quality time with our family and friends at home.  

The Original Oyster House: Classic Pittsburgh Dining at it's Finest

As loyal Blast Furnace readers know, I have been doing a pretty good job making my way around some of Pittsburgh's best known and hidden gem eateries. Although the majority of restaurants that I have reviewed have been repeat dining experiences, you all may be surprised to read that I have never been inside of nor eaten food from one of Pittsburgh's oldest and most famous eateries, The Original Oyster House located at 20 Market Square in downtown Pittsburgh. The Original Oyster House is not only famous for it's great food, but also it holds a spot as one of Pittsburgh's many Historic Landmarks marked by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation. This restaurant holds a special place in the hearts of Yinzers and out-of-towners alike as most people are sure to make their way to Market Square in order to wander around at least once a year.

The menu of the Original Oyster House is very limited, but each item seems to be a great and delicious choice. The Oyster House is your typical fish sandwich bar where I would imagine most people order the same sandwich again and again the same way they would at Primanti Brothers. While I am on the side-topic of Primanti Brothers, I must say that The Original Oyster House surely would be the #2 or #3 on a 'Restaurant Icons of Pittsburgh' top 10 list. I ordered the Spicy Whitefish sandwich while my companions for the outing ordered 'Our Famous Jumbo Fish' sandwich and the Maryland Style Crab Cakes with a side of both onion rings and coleslaw. The Spicy Whitefish was breaded with a Cajun seasoning which when topped with Red Devil hot sauce was a great treat. The bread was soft, but not mushy and allowed the hot sauce to soak into it like a sponge....just the way I like a fish sandwich. It was big enough to eat alone with no need for a side. I definitely would order this sandwich again. My companions were more than pleased with their meals as well.

The Oyster House environment is what sealed the deal for me. This place was 'Pittsburgh'. From the location in Market Square to the staff themselves, this place was more 'Pittsburgh' than the hands down favorite in most circles, Primanti Brothers.

Why is the Oyster House 'Pittsburgh'? I thought a bullet point list could best illustrate this explanation.

Location: Market Square - views of PPG building and the last remnant of old time Pittsburgh
Food Culture: Giant fish sandwiches that can't fit into your hand. A no frills presentation as the sandwich is served on a paper plate. As Dave Wannstedt said "at night, I (can) walk down to the south side and have an Iron City Light and a fish sandwich with the guys who just got done working." This is where I imagine he would eat.
Beer Selection: This may be the one place where local beers dominate the draft taps and who wouldn't want an Iron City, IC Light, or Augustiner Lager to wash down a hot fish sandwich.
Interior Design: The walls are filled with newspaper clippings, paintings, pictures, and slogans from Pittsburgh's past and present. In addition, I can't imagine that the bar or tables have change much since inception. When I walked in I felt like I was transported to a time when things were more simple and it gave me an 'at-home' feel. Even the bathroom had the traditional urinal cake smell and watered down pink liquid hand soap in an old ketchup bottle.
Staff: The staff was very friendly and polite. Not pushy, but made sure you got what you wanted quickly. From the waitress asking, 'Yinz ready to order?' to the bartender's Pittsburgh moustache the staff oozed Yinzer in all of it's glory.
Price: 3 people, 3 beers, 3 meals, $30 - fits right into any Pittsburgher's budget

In addition to the Oyster House being 'Pittsburgh' we headed off to the Pitt home opener and were told to enjoy the game on out way out. I really enjoyed the Oyster House and I will be sure to eat there again. The only thing that disappointed me was that I had never before eaten at the restaurant. I will be sure to rectify this loss over the rest of my life.

Pills gives the Original Oyster House 5/6 Irons for a great experience that helps you to achieve true Yinzer status. Be sure to bring any visitor to this restaurant so they can experience what we have all come to love over out lifetime here in the Burgh. The food will bring the customers in, but it is the combination of the food and environment that will keep customers coming back.

Friday, September 2, 2011

2011 Pitt Panthers Football Preview

Another college football season is upon us and the Pitt Panthers will begin the Todd Graham era of High Octane Football on Saturday.  After an underachieving 2010 campaign where the Panthers finished 8-5 and went to the BBVA Compass Bowl, Pitt controversially fired head coach Dave Wannstedt and hired Miami (Oh) coach Michael Haywood.  Seventeen days into Haywood's tenure he was fired after being charged with domestic violence.  Athletic Director Steve Pederson then went out and hired Todd Graham from Tulsa.  Graham led the Golden Hurricane to a 10-3 record in 2010 that included a 28-27 upset at Notre Dame and a trip to the Hawaii Bowl.  The 46 year old Texas native oversaw a Tulsa offense that ranked first in the nation in 2007 and 2008 and fifth in 2010, averaging 505.6 yards and 41.4 points per game.  Graham is familiar with the Big East due to his time as a defensive backs coach on Rich Rodriguez's staff at West Virginia.  The coaching staff that he hired at Pitt consists of former Tulsa and Michigan assistants.  Here is the Blast Furnace's preview of the 2011 Pittsburgh Panthers.
Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette
2010 Record: 8-5, 5-2
Conference:  Big East
Head Coach:  Todd Graham - 1st season (Five Seasons 43-23, Tulsa/Rice)
Offensive Coordinator:  Calvin Magee/Mike Norvell
Defensive Coordinator: Keith Patterson
Home Stadium:  Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA
All time Record: 671-483-42
National Championships: 9
All Americans:  88
College Football Hall of Famers: 24
NFL Hall of Famers:  6

6:00 PM
Heinz Field
1:00 PM
Heinz Field
12:00 PM
Iowa City, IA
9/24Notre Dame
12:00 PM
Heinz Field
9/29South Florida
8:00 PM
Heinz Field
Piscataway, NJ
Heinz Field
8:00 PM
Heinz Field
Heinz Field
Louisville, KY
11/25West Virginia
Morgantown, WV
12:00 PM
Heinz Field

Offensive Outlook:
The Panthers will be transitioning from a Pro-Style Offense under Dave Wannstedt to a new no-huddle hurry-up spread offense that emphasizes speed, power, and explosiveness under Todd Graham.  Graham's goal for the offense: snap the ball as soon as it is spotted and run approximately 80 plays per game.  Former Michigan and West Virginia Offensive Coordinator Calvin Magee will oversee the offense and along with Mike Norvell whom coached at Tulsa with Graham.  Pitt's base formation will include a three receiver set along with an H-back, which differs from the prior regimes traditional use of a fullback and tight end.  Junior Ray Graham is primed to take over for Dion Lewis at running back.  Graham finished last season rushing for 922 yards on 148 carries.  His 277 yard performance against FIU last year was the second highest rushing total in a game in Pitt history.  Wisconsin transfer Zach Brown will back up Graham and Texas freshman speedster Corey Davis is expected to see some playing time.  

Tino Sunseri returns as the team's starting quarterback.  The redshirt junior is coming off a rocky 2010 season.  He struggled early on last season and had trouble throwing the deep ball.  Sunseri's statistics were respectable by seasons end, completing 64.5% of his passes for 2,572 yds, 16 TDs and 9 INTs.  Sunseri will be the key to the success of this team.  Will he be able to pick up the new offensive scheme and has his arm strength improved?  Coach Graham likes to attempt several long throws a game so he will be tested. 

The offensive line returns three starters:  Lucas Nix, Jordan Gibbs, and Chris Jacobson.  The question mark will be on the center position as (RS Jr.) Ryan Turnley was converted from guard to center during summer camp and the shotgun formation calls for accurate snaps.  Aliquippa product Juantez Hollins will start at left tackle after having a strong camp. 

The receiver position will feature Mike Shanahan, Devin Street, and Cam Saddler. Street is a big play candidate and expectations are for him to have a breakout year.  The 6' 5" Shanahan will be relied upon to be the steady possession receiver and safety blanket for Sunseri.  Mike Norvell wants to have at least six receivers at his disposal to accommodate the multiple formations and game situations so expect senior Ed Tinker and youngsters Salath Williams and Ronald Jones to see plenty of playing time.  Hubie Graham will man the H-Back position which is described as a hybrid of a tight end and fullback.  This will be Graham's first season playing as a Pitt Panther after transferring from Illinois last year.   
RB Ray Graham

Starters returning (5):  QB Tino Sunseri (RS Jr.); WR Mike Shanahan (RS Jr); OL Jordan Gibbs (RS Sr); OL Chris Jacobson (RS Sr); OL Lucas Nix (Sr)
Key Losses:  WR Jon Baldwin; RB Dion Lewis; OL Jason Pinkston; FB Henry Hynoski
Newcomers to watch:  RB Zach Brown (RS Sr.); RB Corey Davis (Fr.); H-back Hubie Graham (RS Jr.)

Defensive Outlook:
The defense returns eight starters from last year's squad.  Defensive Coordinator Keith Patterson will employ a new base 3-4 defense and will at times use a 3-3-5 look and possibly even resort to the previously used 4-3 scheme depending on the down and distance.  This defense will focus on pressuring the quarterback and forcing turnovers.  In the new scheme the two OLBs will take on new roles; the 'Panther' linebacker will essentially be a stand-up defensive end and the 'Spur' linebacker will be a safety/linebacker who will be versatile enough to cover slot receivers and be able to play the run.  Brandon Lindsey will man the 'Panther' spot. Lindsey is a pre-season All American after recording 10 sacks as a defensive end in 2010.  The 'Spur' will be played by RS Fr Todd Thomas and veterans Greg Williams and Andrew Taglianetti will be used depending on the down and distance.  Questions persist about the MLBs which was a trouble spot for the Panthers a year ago.  Senior Max Gruder and inexperienced Shane Gordon are listed as starters. 

The defensive line is the most experienced and deepest position on the team.  Seniors Myles Caragein and Chas Alecxih anchor the line and promising end Aaron Donald is expected to make an impact in his second season. 

The secondary is led by All Big East safety Jared Holley and K'waun Williams stock has risen after a strong freshman season.  The corners were a weak spot last year, perhaps a change in scheme and experience will result in better pass defense.  
LB Brandon Lindsey
Starters Returning (8): DL Myles Caragein (RS Sr.); DL Chas Alecxih (RS Sr.); LB Max Gruder (RS Sr.); LB Greg Williams (RS Sr.); LB/DE Brandon Lindsey (RS Sr.); CB Antuwan Reed (Sr.); S Jared Holley (RS Jr.); S Jason Hendricks (RS Soph)
Key Losses:  DE Jabaal Sheard; DE Greg Romeus; DB/LB Dom DeCicco
Newcomers to watch: LB Juan Price (Fr.); DB Lafayette Pitts (Fr.); DL KK Mosely-Smith (Fr.)

Special Teams: 
There will be new faces on the kicking team this season.  Kevin Harper will take over place kicking duties and Matt Yoklic will be the punter.  These players come in as unknowns, Harper is said to have a very strong leg but lacks consistency making field goals.  He was rated as one of the top kickers in high school a few years ago but was not deemed ready to play by the former staff.  Yoklic displayed long distance punts in the spring game and there has not been much talk about him to date. It is expected that he will perform well as the starting punter.  Speedster Buddy Jackson and freshman Ronald Jones will be the kick returners.  Jackson is one of the fastest players on the team and he displayed his new role as KR in the spring game with a blazing kickoff return for a touchdown off the opening kick.  Cam Saddler will continue to field punts.

Key Losses:  P/K Dan Hutchins
Newcomer(s) to watch: Ronald Jones (Fr.)

Complete Depth Chart
The Blast Furnace predicts the Panthers to go 10-3 and contend for the Big East Championship.  West Virginia and Iowa will be difficult road games and Notre Dame under Brian Kelly, Utah and USF will present a difficult challenge to the Panthers at Heinz Field this season.  Todd Graham has set the bar very high as he expects to win the Big East and go on to a BCS game.  We will see Pitt take a lot of chances on offense and defense.  Dave Wannstedt ran a very conservative system that rarely blitzed and stayed in the base defense no matter what the offense showed.  Expect the defense to create more turnovers and blitz linebackers and defensive backs. Todd Graham is not going to abandon the running game with Ray Graham in the lineup, but Pitt will throw the ball quite a bit more than we are used to seeing.  It should be an exciting season.  See you at Heinz Field!

Pitt fans are hoping the Cathedral is lit gold after many games this season