Matthew Ruffner did ceremonial flyovers for
Pitt, Steelers and Pirates games on the North Shore.
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.