Philadelphia. Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania’s two largest cities, separated by 258 miles, have so much in common. Both were founded prior to this country earning its independence. Both cities draw pride from the “blue collar” people that inhabit them. Each set on or close to the state of Pennsylvania’s borders, Pittsburgh to the west and Philadelphia to the east. And each city is known for its ravenous sports fans, especially when it comes to football.
Pittsburgh, the “Steel City,” was founded in 1758 and claims to be the largest inland port in the United States, giving access to this nation’s nearly 9,000-mile river system. The city was named for William Pitt after the British capture of Fort Duquesne. According to the 2000 census, Pittsburgh has a population of 369,879 and is home to Major League Baseball’s (MLB) Pirates, the National Hockey League’s (NHL) Penguins and the National Football League’s (NFL) Steelers.
Philadelphia was founded in 1682 after a one day’s survey by William Penn. The name of the city is Greek for “City of Brotherly Love.” The 135-square mile boundaries of the fifth-largest city in the nation have not grown since then due to the fact that the city lies between the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers. Philadelphia’s population reached 1,517,550 as of 2000 and is home to MLB’s Phillies, NHL’s Flyers, the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) 76ers and the NFL’s Eagles.
Penn football has been another commonality between the two cities, at least in the recent past. Former Red and Blue standout Kris Ryan hails from the Steel City and matriculated his way to West Philadelphia. Ryan, a running back for the Quakers from 1998-2001, left Franklin Field as the all-time leading rusher with 3,181 career yards.
The talent pool for tough-nosed football players such as Ryan runs deep, and the pipeline between the two cities is widely evident with Penn seniors Sam Mathews, Ric San Doval and Ryan Kwiecinski. All are Pittsburgh natives entering their final season donning the Red and Blue.
“The kids [from Pittsburgh] that are coming to Penn are obviously bright kids. If you are not smart, you’re not getting in and that’s the bottom line as far as that is concerned,” said Ryan about the flow of student-athletes coming from western Pennsylvania to West Philadelphia.
“As far as football tradition is concerned and a tough style of football, you don’t get better than Penn in the Ivy League,” he continued. “I know when looking for myself, and the same can probably be said of Ric, Sam and Ryan the schools we were recruited by, the Ivy League and Patriot League schools, they were committed to having a very good football program. They were serious about winning games and, along with the strong academic side, they had a very strong athletic side. I think the Quakers have been very good at putting forth that image of being a tough football team, a no-nonsense team.”
Ryan finds that the no-nonsense approach to football is characteristic of both cities’ hard-working mentalities and approach to life.
Mathews, a graduate of Mt. Lebanon High School, has 1,982 career rushing yards with the Quakers after transferring from the Naval Academy after the 2002-03 academic year. He echoes Ryan’s sentiment about the people of both cities being hard-working and working-class and he saw that in the people that were at Penn when he visited campus.
“One of the things I was looking for, obviously when I transferred, was somewhere with a high academic level,” he said. “When I came here, the Penn program and a lot of the guys they were recruiting and that were already here had the same mentality as myself and other people from Pittsburgh, the hard-working, blue-collar mentality. It is the Ivy League, but it is more of a blue-collar Ivy League school.”
Backfield mate Kwiecinski, a graduate of McKeesport High School, also saw the obvious upside to coming to Penn from Pittsburgh out of high school.
“I came to Penn because of the reputation of the University as being a leader in academics and athletics, he said. “This same reputation will continue to draw Pittsburgh natives in the future.”
San Doval, a senior linebacker and graduate of Shady Side Academy, enters his final season with the Quakers with 118 career tackles and made a team-best 86 stops during the 2003 campaign, helping Penn to an undefeated season and an Ivy League title. The two-time captain cites another reason why graduating high school seniors would elect to go to Penn, a reason more personal and close to home, literally.
“I think one of the biggest reasons was that it was in-state. I am the oldest child in my family,” he said. “I think it is comforting for parents from places like Pittsburgh to know their kids are only just across the state. It is far enough to feel like they are away at college, but it’s close enough that if they want to visit for a weekend, they are there. I think the education you receive at Penn is second to none. Those were the two main things that played a role in my decision to come here.”
Whatever brings Pittsburgh natives eastward to Penn’s campus, it continues. This fall, freshman Andrew McMillen begins his tenure as a member of the Penn football team. The 2005 North Allegheny High School native is a fullback and lettered in football, basketball and track during his scholastic career, again showing the type of hard-working character that tends to come from Pittsburgh and come to Penn.
Despite the many similarities between the two cities, San Doval has noticed a glaring difference during his time here, one that has more of a direct bearing on him as a football player.
“Philadelphia fans are a lot tougher than Steelers fans,” he said. “I thought we had some tough fans with the Steelers, but these Philly fans are something different. But, generally, both are good people. Originally, it was a tough adjustment getting used to Philadelphia, but now it is a second home.”
Now that these three seniors are nearing the end of their academic and athletic lives in Philadelphia, the questions start to creep into their minds. What will they miss about Philadelphia? What will they look forward to when they return to Pittsburgh?
“Leaving Philadelphia, I will miss the excitement of the big city, the constant commotion,” said Kwiecinski. “It is nice to have something going on at all times. Returning to Pittsburgh, I most look forward to being with my family and friends and being able to relax in peace and quiet, which is something you miss when you are right in the city.”
“My grandmother is an unbelievable cook, to be quite honest,” San Doval quickly said. “When I do make it back, that’s what I am looking forward to the most. In my family, you center your every Sunday around going to my Grandma’s. That is what I am most looking forward to after eating college food for four, going on five years now. It’s always a big plus.”
“I’ll miss the campus, the activity and campus life,” said Mathews. “Back at home, I live within Pittsburgh but at the same time I am not in the city where I would be here in West Philly. I have enjoyed going to school at a city school. There is a lot of action most of the time, a lot of things going on. At the same time, in terms of going back to Pittsburgh, that is just a place that is home for me. Later on in life, I would want to live back there and if I was to start a family, I would definitely live back there.”
No matter where these three go after graduation, there will always be a part of them that is Philadelphia, Penn and Penn football. Many memories have been made by Sam, Ric and Ryan, along with their fellow members of the Class of 2006. Entering the 2005 season, Kwiecinski and San Doval have been members of two Ivy League championship teams, in 2002 and 2003. Mathews joined the trio in 2003 and rushed for 1,266 yards his first season as a Quaker. There will be many things that they will take away from their time here but each had one or two things that particularly stick out.
“Hopefully my most memorable moment will be this year,” said Mathews. “As of right now, I can’t even fathom what the last down I play will be like, but I think the program has given me so many memories already and just helped me to grow academically and athletically.”
“Winning championships is always memorable,” stated Kwiecinski. “But my most memorable moment was my first start against Villanova last season. It was the first time I had the big pre-game jitters in a Penn uniform. I will never forget the camaraderie of the team and the coaches, and the winning tradition and work ethic of playing for a great program. The amount of friends I have gained from playing football at Penn is unbelievable.”
San Doval was able to pinpoint his most memorable moment down to two encounters with one opponent. “I would have to say the best memory was beating Harvard at Harvard in 2003. That was big. The loss in 2001 left a really bad taste in Steve’s [Lhotak] and my mouth. We each had big errors in that game Mine on a punt, and Steve’s happened on a running back up the seam. That was one of those things that it happens and you’re not getting much sleep afterward. That moment stuck with me the most until we went back up there and beat them in their stadium. It was probably one of the best feelings I’ve had, not just in a Penn uniform but in a football uniform in general.”
As has been mentioned throughout, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have many similarities, and those similarities continue when talking about what each city is known for. But on certain issues, you must choose one side or the other. With that in mind, the three Pittsburgh products weighed in on some of the more famous choices between Pittsburgh and Philly staples:
City of Brotherly Love vs. Steel City - All three stayed true to their native roots with Kwiecinski citing, “Pittsburgh is my hometown and nothing will replace that.”
The Birds’ vs. The Steel Curtain Defense’ -
This was a sweep, as all through had to side with their favorite team growing up, the Pittsburgh Steelers. “Definitely the Steel Curtain Defense,’” said Mathews. “I think that nickname symbolized everything they did and how good their defense was against the run and the pass. That name definitely characterizes them the best.”
The Incline vs. The “Rocky” Steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum -
Kwiecinski and Mathews went with the Inclines, and San Doval just couldn’t be forced to decide: “The Inclines in Pittsburgh are very cool, but the Rocky’ steps, you can’t go wrong with that. I am going to have go with a tossup.”
The Ohio, Monongehila and Allegheny Rivers vs. The Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers -
Despite the fact that both groups each have a river quite difficult to pronounce for anyone outside of the region (Skool`-kull and muh-Non`-guh-hee-la), the consensus went to the famed Three Rivers as Kwiecinski pointed out the fact that all three pouring into one another at one singular point is famous in and of itself: “Having the rivers running right through your hometown and meeting to form the point where the Steelers and Pirates play is a great site and a very well-known area.” It was actually the area where coal was first mined in the city in 1761.
Pat’s/Geno’s Cheese Steaks vs. Primanti Brothers Almost Famous Sandwich -
It looked as though Primanti’s was going to win hands down with Kwiecinski choosing it for its variety. “With a cheese steak, you get the same greasy sandwich every time,” he said. “But with Primanti’s, you choose what type of sandwich you would like from a list of about 25 kinds.” Even Ryan chimed in on the debate, choosing the almost famous’ sandwich from his native Pittsburgh. San Doval was the lone dissenter, after much thought, choosing a Pat’s Original Cheese Steak. “I am going to with the cheese steak. I’m not a big fan of everything you get on the Primanti’s sandwich. I usually put most of the stuff on the side. But you give me a good, nice and warm Pat’s cheese steak on a cold day and you might have me sold.”
There you have it, for the most part the choice of the three primarily went to the side of their hometown, showing that you can take the man out of the Burgh, but you can’t the Burgh out of the man.
Written by Mat Kanan