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... 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.
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.
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.
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, 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 the “Sutherland Scythe“. He was known for his calm and direct demeanor, never shouting or ranting to motivate his team.
During his tenure, Sutherland’s teams were named Eastern football champions seven times including 1925, 1927, 1929, 1931, 1934, 1936, and 1937. 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.
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. Of these, the University of Pittsburgh officially recognizes five of those years as national championship seasons (1929, 1931, 1934, 1936, and 1937). 
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.
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.The 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. But 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.