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Pittsburgh Panthers football is the intercollegiate football team of the University of Pittsburgh, often referred to as "Pitt", located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Traditionally the most popular sport at the university, Pitt football has played at the highest level of American college football competition, now termed the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, since the beginning of the school's sponsorship of the sport in 1890. As of the 2013 season, Pitt competes as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Pittsburgh has claimed nine national championships, and is among the top 20 college football programs in terms of all-time wins. Its teams have featured many coaches and players notable throughout the history of college football, including, among all schools, the fifth most College Football Hall of Fame inductees, the eighth most consensus All-Americans, and the third most Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees. The Panthers are currently coached by Paul Chryst. Pitt plays home games at Heinz Field which they share with the National Football League Pittsburgh Steelers and utilize the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Performance Complex as their practice facility.
Football at the University of Pittsburgh began in the fall of 1889 when the school was still known as the Western University of Pennsylvania, often referred to as WUP, and was located in what was then known as Allegheny City and is today the city of Pittsburgh's North Side. A 130 pound WUP student, Bert Smyers, along with senior student John Scott, assembled a football team that year composed of only three players who had previously witnessed the sport. The team played in one informal game, a loss against Shady Side Academy, in which Smyers made himself quarterback and Scott played center. In preparation for the following year, the first season of football officially recognized by the university, Smyers and his teammates took up a collection and purchased a football for practices and games; players were responsible for their own uniforms. In Smyers' case, his uniform was pieced together by his mother and sister. The first official game for the university was played on October 11, 1890, when the Allegheny Athletic Association's opponent, Shadyside Academy, failed to appear for its game at Exposition Park. Allegheny A.A. called Smyers who brought the WUP team as a replacement. In an inglorious start to Pitt football history, WUP was defeated 38-0. Smyers' team next faced Washington and Jefferson College, losing 32-0, but closed out its inaugural three game season with the university's first win, a 10-4 victory over Geneva College.
The following season saw the university collect more losses en route to a 2-5 record. Smyers suffered a broken nose in a 40-6 loss to Washington and Jefferson, a school that would become one of WUP's fiercest early rivals. The WUP team did record the school's first shutout with a 6-0 win over Geneva, as well as the school's first blowout in a 54-0 win over Western Pennsylvania Medical College who, interestingly, became affiliated with WUP in 1892 and later became the university's medical school when they merged in 1908. Perhaps the most important development for the second season of football was Smyers recruitment of Joseph Trees from Normal University of Pennsylvania. The 210 pound Trees became WUP's first subsidized athlete and, later in life, made millions in the oil industry and became an important benefactor for the university and athletic department. Today, Trees Hall, an athletic facility on the University of Pittsburgh's main campus in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, bears his name.
The first winning record for the university came in the third season of competition in 1892, when the team posted a 4-2 record. The following season in 1893, the team had its first official coach, Anson F. Harrold, who led the team to an unremarkable 1-4 record. However, during that season the first contest was played in what would become a 96-game series versus Penn State, thus originating one of the longest and fiercest rivalries for both schools. In 1895, the school suffered a 1-6 season under coach J.P. Linn. The 1895 season was notable for the first Backyard Brawl on October 26, 1895, with WUP losing to West Virginia 8–0 in Wheeling, WV.
The university did not see another winning season until Fred Robinson led WUP to a 5-2-1 record in 1898. In 1899, Robinson continued his success with a 3-1-1 record, giving the school its first back-to-back winning seasons. This was followed by two more consecutive winning seasons, including a record seven-win season in 1901 under coach Wilbur Hockensmith. That season, Hockensmith led the school to its first victory over West Virginia, a 12-0 shutout in Morgantown on October 5, 1901.