By RJ Sepich
Matthew Ruffner sat in a bar in Tucson, Ariz., and watched his beloved Pitt Panthers football team play the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on the evening of Nov. 14, 2009.
Ruffner couldn't make it to Heinz Field that night because he was in Arizona on military duty, training to fly helicopters. Still, he wasn't going to miss the opportunity to watch his 12th-ranked Panthers in a primetime game against one of their biggest rivals.
A graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Ruffner became an avid Pitt fan five years prior when he watched Tyler Palko lead the Panthers to a stirring 41-38 win at Notre Dame.
On this particular Arizona night, Jackie Bignardi was the bartender serving Ruffner and she found herself instantly drawn to the charismatic soldier wearing Pitt gear. The two hit it off, although not immediately because Ruffner was laser-focused on the television during the game. Once Pitt had finished off the Irish with a five-point win, a connection was made between Jackie and Matt.
"He was just awesome. He was so nice and genuine," Jackie said. "He told me how he had a 'man crush' on this former Pitt player named Tyler Palko, and he just knew how to make me laugh. It's kind of clichéd, but I believe it really was love at first sight. And to make it even better, Pitt beat the Irish that night, 27-22. I'll never forget that score."
After that night, Bignardi and Ruffner became inseparable.