Two iconic American cities, Pittsburg and Pittsburgh, are set to square off in a football game on October 28th. It’s a rivalry that has spanned more than a century of dominance and achievement, with the Pittsburghers holding the upper hand – at least, according to popular culture.

The latest installment in the rivalry is a big deal for locals – and not just because it’s a chance to settle scores with their rivals. The game will be televised live, and it might just be the biggest gridiron showdown since the two cities last squared off more than 70 years ago.

But just how did the Pittsburgher kill the Pittsburger? If you’re asking, then you’re probably already aware of the rivalry, which means you’re either a local or live in one of the two cities. It’s a question that’s been asked so often, in fact, that the answer might as well be tattooed on the chests of every Pittsburgher – at least, every good Pittsburgher.

“The answer is very simple. We are better,” the Pittsburghers like to say. And while that might be true in some ways, it’s a rivalry that’s defined by a lot more than just wins and losses. Here, we’ll explore the roots of the rivalry and its significance for both cities – as well as what the future holds for the storied football rivalry.

The Rivalry Was Formed In The Early 20th Century

It wasn’t always this way, of course. Before they were bitter rivals, the cities of Pittsburgh and Pittsburg were actually quite friendly toward each other. Between 1905 and 1915, the cities saw five of their six annual football games end in ties.

The football rivalry was born out of the unique but similar ways the cities developed during this time. Though Pittsburgh was founded in 1892, while Pittsburg was established the following year, their expansion was remarkably similar. The two cities hit their peak population in the early 20th century, attracting workers from all over the country. They were both industrial powerhouses, and their burgeoning middle class – coupled with the newfangled sport of football – led to a fierce competition that would define their entire rivalry.

Both Cities Voted For Democrat Wilson, But Only One Liked To Jukeburgers

It’s widely known that Woodrow Wilson – the man who eventually became the 28th president of the United States – was a graduate of Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania. The Princeton Tigers were considered the national champions of the time, and Wilson led the team to a 7-0-1 record in his first year. It was during this time that the president began to formulate his “Treaty of Peace” between the United States and Germany, which he eventually sent to Congress in February of 1917.

In the presidential election of that year, Democrat Woodrow Wilson received more votes than anyone else – including his Republican opponent, Charles W. Bryan. But it wasn’t just a fluke. Pittsburgh and its surrounding counties overwhelmingly supported Wilson, giving him 73.3 percent of the vote. In stark contrast, Bryan only received 14.3 percent in the city, and the industrialist Pat Croxton even less – 6.3 percent.

It’s easy to see why the residents of Pittsburgh looked toward the White House for leadership during this time. Not only did Wilson oversee the drafting of the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I, and negotiate the Treaty of Peace, which ended the Spanish flu pandemic, but he also grew up in the city and worked as a lawyer there for over 20 years before entering politics.

The Hardships Of War Leads To A Change In The Way The Cities Compete

One of the things that makes the Pittsburghers’ relationship with Pittsburg so unique is that the rivalry is not just about football. When the United States entered World War I in April of 1917, Pittsburg and its surrounding counties were some of the first places hit by the government’s “draft riot” – in which thousands of young men staged a protest against the military draft, leading to the arrest of more than 500 people. Though the protests were later deemed legal, the riots cost the city government more than $500,000 in legal fees and bail bonds.

The turmoil of World War I was felt in more ways than one. In 1918, the federal government ordered a lockdown on all textile mills, which led to a 25 percent decline in production. When the dust settled, the unemployment rate in the city was 33 percent.

As a result of the economic upheaval and the hardships of war, the cities began to look at each other differently. In a 1922 article in the Saturday Evening Post, a reporter from Pittsburgh described what had changed:

“Pittsburgh is at the moment the most interesting city in the United States from a social standpoint. The changes that have taken place are nothing less than phenomenal. You cannot walk down a city street without being aware of some form of entertainment. There are jazz bands, orchestras, dance assemblies, theatrical companies, circuses and even a professional baseball team.”

It turns out the reporter was right. In the early years of the 20th century, many of the city’s most popular attractions were still located in the downtown area. But as the suburbs grew, the entertainment options shifted to the newer areas.

Football Is One Of The Few Things The Cities Still Agree On

Perhaps the most notable aspect of the rivalry between Pittsburgh and Pittsburg is that they still compete over football. Since the start of the 21st century, the two cities have only agreed to six ties and one no contest. (The other three games ended in draws.)

The last meeting between these two rivals was on December 4, 2016, in Heinz Field. The winner of the game will take home the Vince Lombardi Trophy – named after the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, who happened to be from Pittsburgh. The score was 23-7 in favor of the home team. While the rivalry will almost certainly continue, it’s unlikely that either city will ever be able to admit that they are actually friendly toward each other.

The only thing the cities agree on is that football is best played on a grass field. That’s something that the sport itself cannot control, as evidenced by the growing number of players who are choosing to remain retired due to fears of head injuries. Several weeks ago, the NFL agreed to a $60 million settlement with the families of former players that contended that the league had concealed the risks of playing football.

The Future Of The Rivalry Depends On The Health Of Two Athletes

The last few years have seen the health of two of the most prominent athletes in the city’s history deteriorate to the point of retirement. Jerome “Sugar Bear” Bettis – the only active player in the history of the rivalry – and Ryan “Rice” William’s career are both coming to an end, with Bettis announcing his retirement in September of 2018 and William undergoing surgery last month to repair the damage done by years of concussions. (He initially complained of problems with his vision and concentration, and then, later, of slurred speech and headaches.)

This is undoubtedly a bad omen for the future of the rivalry. But it’s not just about these two great athletes. It’s also about the thousands of other NFL, CFL, and high school football players who are now dealing with the long-term effects of the violent sport. Many have had to give up playing football due to health concerns. And it’s about the sons and daughters of these men who are growing up without fathers in the houses. (The NFL released a statement in August of 2018, saying that “[t]here is a place in our game for everyone.”)

It’s a complex issue that will require serious consideration from all parties involved. But for now, the cities of Pittsburgh and Pittsburg are set to renew their rivalry on October 28th. And if history is any indicator, it’ll be a game that will be remembered for all the right reasons.