Pitt Football’s Glory Days: Part 1

Sometimes when I’m trying to figure out what to write for the next article I take a look at some of the historical stuff that pertains to Pitt football and I try to figure out patterns or events that I can point to which would be interesting to talk about.  With that I have found something that I think will be nice to share with you guys.

Lets look back at what we all feel were the glory days of Pitt football.600px-pittwvuatexpopark1908.. and to me that means not going back to the turn of the earlier century, the early 1900s, even though we did kick ass then when football was a different animal all together and we played at Forbes field… but into the 1930s. 

In other words lets look at Pitt’s first rush of success from when football was more modern and the forward pass was fully integrated.

Today we’ll make that Part 1 of our look-back.  Part 2 will cover 1974 until 1983 then in Part 3 we’ll look over the last decade… yeah, believe it or not the last 10 years have been a highlight for us.

There has been three major ‘rise and falls‘ of Pitt football over the last 80 years or so. Those winning periods are wonderful; what kills us Pitt fans are the years in between those winning periods.  That is how the phrase Same Old Pitt (“SOP”) started and how it became, in my mind, to be a misunderstood concept.

After all some fans look at our last ten years and don’t get all that excited about it… but maybe they should (in context).  Why?  Because it is one of the most productive decades in Pitt’s modern history.

We’ll discuss now and the period between 1974 to 1983 in later articles but for now let’s go way back to Jock’s time.

To me what  is really interesting about Pitt football is the time period between the years 1929 to 1938.  Those were really big years for us and it made us a household name when it came to college ball.  Remember this is way before professional football became the big event it is now.

I feel a personal connection to those days because my parents,  Pitt administrators and crazy football fans, were in undergrad school back then and I heard stories of those teams every fall for as long as I can remember.  marshall_goldberg

So the names John Chickerneo Joe Donchess, Frank Souchak and Marshall Goldberg,(to name just a few) were heard in our home time and again… especially in later cocktail parties and tailgates and when the booze was flowing and the parents and their friends started talking about the good old days of Pitt football.

Wait! Does that sound familiar to you readers out there who are my age and talk about the Majors, Sherrill, Dorsett and Marino years?  Yeah – it does. Ike… Dan 72?

But this is when Pitt really made its mark; the years between 1929 in 1938 were when we had the legendary Jock Sutherland as our head football coach.  Now there are two names that are associated with Pitt football history that really jump out at us;  Pop Warner is one and Jock Sutherland is the other.  jock-sutherland

Warner was the head coach in the way, way back part of Pitt’s history from 1915-22 with three national championships to his credit while coaching here. He was so well know we still have a kid’s football classification named after him.  Pitt has impacted American football  in many ways.

Both of those guys started Pitt on its football path, albeit at different times, and made us the national champions that we were back then… and that really was the basis of eight of the nine national championships we claim.  334_inside-display-image_0

If you are anything of a Pitt football history nut then you have to read this article written by Sutherland regarding the “next season“.  Then follow that up with this article about Sutherland himself.  I especially ask the young Pitt fans to do this as this was truly Pitt’s shining moment in college football’s history. 

It explains Sutherland’s 15 years at Pitt (1924-1938) much better than I can.

Also here’s this from Wikipedia:

In 1924, Sutherland replaced “Pop” Warner, his former coach and mentor, as head coach at Pitt. Sutherland, who was described as “a national hero” in a Saturday Evening Post article,[13] became a highly admired and influential coach at the University while compiling a record of 111–20–12. On offense, he ran a double-wing formation known as theSutherland Scythe“.[14] He was known for his calm and direct demeanor, never shouting or ranting to motivate his team.[15]

During his tenure, Sutherland’s teams were named Eastern football champions seven times including 1925, 1927, 1929, 1931, 1934, 1936, and 1937.[16] During this time, Pitt appeared in four Rose Bowl games (1928, 1930, 1933, and 1937) and turned down a bid for the 1938 Rose Bowl.[14]

Sutherland’s teams were named “National Champions” by various selectors for nine different seasons including 1925, 1927, 1929, 1931, 1933, 1934, 1936, 1937, and 1938.[17][18] Of these, the University of Pittsburgh officially recognizes five of those years as national championship seasons (1929, 1931, 1934, 1936, and 1937).  [18]

While one of them, 1937, includes the Associated Press national championship designation which, at the time, was only the third instance in which the AP poll had been published.

Sutherland coached the famed “Dream Backfield” of John Chickerneo, Dick Cassiano, Harold Stebbins, and Marshall Goldberg, which at the time was considered to be the best backfield in history by some, including Don Miller, a member of The Four Horsemen of Notre Dame.[19]


In those years, which was spanned one decade, we won 79 games and lost 11 for a 88% winning percentage.  That’s better than we’ve ever done since in any given ten-year period. 

Here is a great NY Times article about that 1937 team…and why they turned down a Rose Bowl invitation.

You have to look at that and try to distill the reasons for that success into one issue.  Was it the coaching?  Was it the administrative support? Absolutely not and that was why Sutherland left Pitt soon after. Was it an On Campus Stadium…?  I kind of hate to say this but the latter really was a huge part of Pitt football back in those days.Aerial View Of Pitt Stadium Pittsburgh, PAThe fact that the first game in Pitt stadium was in 1925 shouldn’t be lost on historians looking for a reason here – at least part of a reason.

Sure they only played 9 or 10 games a year but when I look at the numbers in Jock’s win column I see digits that I wish we had in our win column today with our 12 or 13 game schedule… in eight years of that decade he won 8 or 9 games. 

Well, Pat Narduzzi has the “8” number well set so far – let’s get him to give us that “9” soon (or more thank you!).

It’s hard to look back at those days in black and white and only through media windows and get the full flavor of what that time was like for Pitt.  raccooncoatsBut as I said above, I heard the huge pride in my parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents (all Pitt grads) voices when they talked about Sutherland and those teams and truth be told I miss it.  They had a blast on those old home game weekends.

However, I was also lucky enough to be in Pittsburgh and be a Pitt student for a part of the next series of Glory Years in Pitt football. The Majors National Championship year with Dorsett running wild and the ensuing Danny Marino led, Jackie Sherrill coached 1973-1983 teams.

That will be part 2 on Monday.

Stay tuned…




38 thoughts on “Pitt Football’s Glory Days: Part 1

  1. Reed, thanks for the trip down memory lane! My Dad was also a HUGE Pitt fan growing up on the upper 5th Avenue Soho District of lower Oakland. He never missed a game from 1930 until he enlisted in the Army. (by the way, making FIVE first wave landings in MacArthur’s return to the Philippines). He use to say Pitt was so good, often before the offensive snapped the ball our “QB” would point and tell the defense “this is where the ball is going” – and they still couldn’t stop the play! He also told me of one particular big game that was so crowded and sold out that a mob of 200-300 fans, including him, formed and rushed the gate to successfully get in to watch the game. He claimed Pitt football was the biggest thing going in the Burg and when he talked about it his eyes would light up like a Christmas tree!
    Great memories!!!!! #H2P


  2. Boy oh boy, those were different times for sure but that cannot take away the fact of what the PITT football teams accomplished way back then. Honestly here, I really can’t remember when and how I started rooting for PITT and became this crazed fan. Growing up in Greensburg, you really didn’t hear that much about PITT. Actually the head football coach’s name was Bob Williams and he had psu connections. Maybe because psu and Gbg were both Lions? Remember the 3 players from Gbg who played at psu at the same time? Argenta ( the center) snapped the ball to Andress (the QB) who handed the ball off to Taylor (the TB). …but anyways. It was a church outing to PITT stadium that introduced me to PITT football. That game was either the Navy or WVU comeback win, I can never remember which one it was. Both of those games had a very similar game-line and I was at both.

    There is so much to be proud of when it comes to PITT. It really makes me wonder why can’t PITT raise more money and a more expansive fan following. This school is so well respected on many levels.

    I repeat myself here but when I see a picture of PITT Stadium it hurts my heart. Dam it. That building was iconic and should have been completely renovated and resurrected. I look at all the wonderful buildings along 5th ave and all over Oakland/Shadyside/Point Breeze and Squirrel Hill and it just makes me look at the ground and spit.

    Looking forward to future installments of PITT football glory years revisited!!.. … ike



  3. Ike – Beacuse Pitt hires douchbag Dorks to run Athletics. No one wants to give those morons money. No experience and no stadium and no balls. Yes men pu$$ies like Pumpkin head were hired and cyanide.


    1. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t even need to see the poster’s name to know who it is commenting for two guys on here. One is the Dark Knight and of course the other one is our mild mannered ever so eloquent Upittbaseball.😘😘😘


  4. That was a loaded question Upitt and you hit it out of the ballpark, however, I do think things are a changing

    btw, you never did answer my question about Jordano, Love him like him hate him or dump him?


  5. I have a great friend that I’ve known for over 50 years now. Loves PITT as much as anyone. At the start of a game whether it be football or basketball we may share a phone call or a text. Then nothing….. until something bad happens.. All of a sudden the texts and calls come flowing like wine on a hot summer night. It makes me lol when PITT is playing a great game because I know he will never use his phone. I only get a message when it turns bad. Point is…. ? …. PITT football isn’t playing bad right now..


  6. Pitt needs a great AD supported by fans, boosters, former players, alumni and the Chancellor. Pitt’s BoT has been the biggest hindrance. Gallagher says the right things but he still reports to the BoT comprised of Pedo lovers, academics and bureaucrats. Until this composition changes and Pitt runs its university like a modern school with a much smaller ‘advisory’ council and a Chancellor with real powers of the Executive, Pitt will continue to be stuck in second gear. The right AD will make all the difference but Pitt will never hire the right AD and never support one. Until this damn BoT structure is fundamentally changed. Today it exists to resist change, protect the status quo and serve themselves. Drain Pitt’s swamp.


  7. EE, yes I get that. My point was, if PITT isn’t playing schitty at this exact moment, many can’t find a reason to post a comment…

    … and Tx. couldn’t agree more. It’s not that Gallagher doesn’t get it. It comes from above. but just you wait. I’m telling you guys….


  8. Thanks for the great article!!! Boy were those boys big and heavy back then – Upitt would have been a star. What struck me about the picture of Pitt Stadium was all the green around it, what replaced it besides Robinson Court public housing shit hole. Every time PItt has fallen from the big time it has come from academic interference. It also was interesting the Goldberg’s grades were so openly reported, not with today’ legal restrictions. A great look into the past.


  9. Geez…. Every time I see a nice photo of Pitt Stadium like Reed posted in this article, it brings back lots of great memories, both from being part of the Pitt Band and attending football games for many years after I graduated while I still lived in Pittsburgh. Walking up Cardiac Hill probably still accounts for lack of cardiac problems at the age of 69. Maybe sitting on those stadium benches back then on cold and/or rainy game days are less memorable experiences, as were using the stadium bathrooms and eating stadium concessions (Don’t even ask about the coffee!!).

    AND, my undergrad student days at Pitt were from 1965-1969 and grad school 73-74, none of which were memorable football seasons. Yet, it feels good to reminisce about those game days!


  10. 73-74 were at least the beginning of Majors. Who can forget the splinters from the benches, everyone took a Pitt News to sit on.


  11. rkb… The Pitt News only worked if you or your date wasn’t wearing white pants or shorts to the game. If they did, excerpts from the Pitt News were nicely imprinted on the person’s bottom, which tended to limit the participation in after-game social events. Can’t recall what year they covered the benches with that metal (plastic?) overlay.


    1. Aluminum! Frickin hot aluminum in September and frickin freezing aluminum in November. The splinters were better IMO!


  12. Ike… uhhh thanks for asking about the hemorrhoids! If you must know… they keep coming back.

    Actually, my wife, who I met at Pitt and was my partner at those games, blames those seats for her flat ass, which I will admit was pleasantly rounded in her early 20’s before we began to regularly attend the games!


  13. Hey there Mr Nola, there was a man who coached at a local small high school. Would you happen to be him? I understand if you don’t respond.


  14. The great Pitt Panther picture on the wall of Engineering hall is my memory forever. Are there any t-shirts with that picture around?


  15. Ike… No, twasn’t me. Did he have hemorrhoids too?

    I did go to a small high school in McKees Rocks which was about 15 min by car from downtown Pgh. Later was merged and became known as Sto-Rox HS.


  16. Nola: There was a poster I recall who called himself “Nola” on a message board that laid claim to being a coach of some sort. Whether or not the man had ass problems was never discussed. btw, my wife’s ass is still very round and sexy as hell. (she doesn’t like football)


    1. Ike.. I took the NOLA name as I live in New Orleans LA, and first graduated Pitt in 1969.

      If I knew then what I do now… I would have been more cautious about linking up with a woman who liked to go to college football games. But such is life!


  17. Ike – Jordan is terrible.

    He didnt even go .500 overall
    LAst year and barley wins 30% of his games in ACC.

    Pitt extended him because no one cares about Baseball or most sports. Shows by the lack of desire to hire a AD.


  18. Pitt doesnt care about itself. If it did, we wouldnt be rolling in shat. Hire Tressell and show me you care.


  19. Baseball beats OSU, Softball beats Northwestern, DI Club Hockey team (in throw back colors) wins a slot in the DI Nationals, and the hoops team wins against a top 25 team.


  20. lol Upittbaseball. C’mon buddy, I know how you feel about Jordano. I just wanted to hear you say it out loud.

    Hoping you’re feeling a little better these days… ike


  21. Pitt has had jagoff leaders since, well, forever. One chancellor runs off Sutherland after cutting all funds. Pitt is awful in the 40s, average in the 50s, has a nice season in 1963, then some jagoff decides to raise the academic standards and 1-win teams almost becomes the norm.

    Finally someone who’s smart decides enough is enough and Majors is hired followed by Sherrill. Then another jagoff decides to blow that up. An average coach who can recruit is hired in 1986 and should have been the coach until the late-90s or even 2000, but a jagoff fires him for academics again and the result is 10 years of a bad product on the field on the best day of the week. ALL OF US LOSE WHEN A JAGOFF RUNS THE SHOW.


  22. Great win yesterday for the Junior Day. Lot’s of prospects got to see some school spirit. It would be nice to get some early verbals.


  23. Amen Austin, keep the professors and deans out of football. When I was in grad school professors were constantly badmouthing players they didn’t even have, A professor speaking is Intellectual masturbation.


  24. Aha…. we are making some progress here. While reading I had to ask myself. Did I write this last night while sleepwalking? PITT looked into the mirror and found the problems. It is them…..


  25. I’m guessing Tressel won’t be hired because once again, if he was the man, what the hell would they be waiting for ????


  26. The great Pitt RB, Harold Stebbins of Pitt’s Dream Backfield, went by “Curly” Stebbins and his backfield mates were “Chick” Chickerneo, Dick Cassiano and of course Marshall Goldberg who was from Elkins, Wva.
    Goldberg was runnerup in the ’38 Heisman (how many runnerups does Pitt have ?)

    Those guys were the biggest celebrities in Pittsburgh in their days at Pitt.

    Pitt football went from being the King of all the Sports in Pittsburgh to our present status. as an afterthought
    in Pittsburgh sports.

    Such has the mismanagement been over the decades.


  27. I’d love to see an article about the pop warner days especially the infamous rigged game vs the Cleveland naval reserve team that broke Warners 3 year unbeaten streak. Or maybe it was 4 years, can’t remember.


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