Here is a piece by a fellow Marylander, Dan72 – who BTW was a fraternity brother at Pitt with my older brother Clint back in the ’70s.
Imagine the most beautiful girl in your class. You have a complete crush on her but most of the time she will not give you the time of day. Then, amazingly, you become lab partners and agree to some study dates. They go joyfully well and so you ask her out only to hear her say she has a boyfriend at another school.
She never speaks to you again! You are crushed!
It’s like that with Pitt Football!
For me, Pitt Football started when I was eight years old. My dad took my brother Doug and I to Pitt Stadium to see Pitt play Notre Dame. My wealthy Aunt Helen (huge Pitt Donor and dinner partner at parties with Chancellor Litchfield and late Wes Posvar) had season tickets on the 50 yard line behind the opposing team bench) had given my father tickets.
My mom was a huge Notre Dame fan but she did not want to go that day. It was November 8th 1958 and a young Coach John Michelosen had a decent Pitt team which would eventually finish that year 5-4. I remember the first walk up Cardiac Hill as my dad went on about the number of fatal heart attacks as we climbed up. I distinctly remember a pregame hush in the packed stadium as this line of Notre Dame very tall men in skirts marched out. Then a roar I will never forget as the Notre Dame Band entered and the ND Fan base, which held about 70% of the seats, exploded in thunder that I have never forgotten. I just had to look up the final score of that match: Pitt 29 -Fighting Lassies 26 as Pitt won the day.
I raved to my Aunt Helen about Pitt and thanked her profusely for the tickets. She uttered the line that day which would define “Same Old Pitt (SOP)” for me. “Son, don’t get too attached to that university….they could F- up a two car funeral!” Later, and many times over, I would remember her warning.
Later in that 1958 season I listened on my little white transistor radio as Pitt lost to Penn State 25-21 as Penn State scored in the final minute. For some reason that really stung and I couldn’t figure out why. My dad went to and flunked out of Penn State, his brother Rich played in the Blue Band and graduated as did my dad’s father and his eight brothers. I had a scholarship to Penn State if I wanted it.
I started to listen to Pitt Football regularly until age 12 when, as a Boy Scout, Pitt hired us to become ushers during home games. I guess the fans were so rowdy, they thought Boy Scouts with uniforms on would allow some stability…..wrong!!! They were probably just being cheap!
So from 1962 until 1965 I ushered every home game in Section 23 where I would eventually have season tickets. The ND and WVU games were the worst! I could have opened three well stocked bars with the leftover bottles of liquor I bagged after those games. Yes…for you youngsters…you could bring an arsenal of bottles in with you at the gate as long as you hid them in something and they were not directly visible.
At age 14 for some crazy reason, my buddies coaxed me into playing Jr. High Football for the Whitehall Scotties (our HS Baldwin was the Highlanders so I guess that fit). I was not ever a good football player and we had these stupid Scotty Dogs on the sides of our helmets that opponents roared at.
I remember lining up against Elizabeth Forward for my first game and the guy across from me (who looked like he was about 28 years old, laughed his ass off at me before just crushing me all afternoon continually asking “How’s your dog?”
We did not win a game for two years as Scotty’s and Mt Lebanon (Jefferson Jr. High beat us like 77-0 one game.
When I entered Baldwin HS, no way was I going to play football except that I found out Bob Longo, one of my Pitt idols, was going to help coach the ends…my title was Split End….I was slow, had small hands and couldn’t see without my glasses (In my Junior Year I set a WPIAL record as the first player to wear sports glasses) So I went out and played JV Football for Baldwin…got Longo’s autograph and played two more years until I broke my had in a scrimmage the week before our big game with Mt Lebanon in 1967 in front of 10,000 plus people.
Lebo killed us and I remember it felt like losing to Penn State! Several future Pitt players were on that Baldwin team. Tom Hasbaugh, future Pitt QB, Jimmy Paris, Pitt’s FB, John Wosniak, and Pitt’s Middle Linebacker, and a young sophomore, Dave Wannstedt playing on the offensive line.
Dave and my brother Doug became best friends and they would often lift weights at our house and stay for dinner. They both held shot put records at Baldwin; both were All-WPIAL and had full rides to college. Brother Doug went to Rutgers and shared many of their recruiting XX rated tales with me. I have always really liked Dave, except as a game day coach at Pitt.
When I graduated from HS, the only school I wanted to go to was Pitt. Screw the scholarship I had waiting at Penn State (where I didn’t even apply). I had decent SAT’s but my grades weren’t great with a 3.11 GPA but I got accepted to Washington & Jefferson, Slippery Rock and Grove City but still heard nothing from Pitt.
Then, on one of the top five happiest days of my life, I got my acceptance letter to Pitt the day of my high school prom. That was in late May of 1968 and I was so excited I did not sleep for days.
“THIS WAS THE YEAR THE PANTER WOULD BEGIN TO PROWL!!!”
This was the slogan in 1968 when young circus master Dave Hart took over as HC. They had fired my beloved Johnny Mike but I didn’t care. This guy was going to turn Pitt Football around. Three 1-9 seasons later and Hart was fired. ND Coach Ara Parsegian was quoted back then as saying about Pitt football “Never have I seen so much talent disappear in one school”
But with every loss I appreciated Pitt Football even more. I knew one day it would turn around. When in my junior year Pitt opened 5-1 with a huge second half comeback against WVA, I just knew this was it!
Then, Pitt lost its last 4 games in a soul crushing fashion that would become the basis for future SOP moments.
1972 through 1974 became a blur of losing games but I still never missed a game in person. I had worked in between classes during the summers and Christmas Breaks at a printing company Addressograph Multigraph on the corner of Baum and Bigalow, since I was age 15. My Aunt Helen was the office manager and my family was beyond was very poor. I hated every second of it but it became my career for 48 years. I moved to Baltimore in 1974 to take my first printing sales job. On September 1st of last year I retired from Quad Graphics, the largest printing company in the world. Still, I came back to Pittsburgh for every Pitt game. The drive from Baltimore to Pitt a bit over four hours; I’ve made it in 3.4 hours.
In 1975 Pitt more wealthy alums got together and said enough! They hired the best young coach in America in Johnny Majors. In his first game we tied a great Georgia Team with our future Heisman winner getting his first 100+ yard game in his very first action. And I’ll never forget our first bowl game under Majors – the Fiesta Bowl. We lost that one but my Pitt was in a bowl! Wow!
While at Pitt I met the temporary love of my life, a young lady from Carlow College. She was from Aliquippa and had told me about this young running back named Dorsett who was playing on the ‘Quip’s varsity while he was in 8th grade.
Later I would see every home game he played at Pitt and also as many away games as I could. I saw him break the all-time NCAA Division 1 rushing record at Navy. He was, to this day, the best college football player I have ever seen. The things he did on the field were indescribable. In 74, when we finally beat Notre Dame for the first time since the 60’s, a former Pitt player, Hog Harrison, burned in effigy a Notre Dame pennant in Section 23. I cried my eyes out!
But then there was our 1975 game at Three Rivers Stadium where #17 Pitt went up against a powerful #10 Penn State team. It was freezing for that game but I had my bottle of Southern Comfort to help and by then we had a huge contingent of Pitt Grads in Baltimore making the trip up each week. Pitt completely dominated the game but our kicker, Carson Long (and wide!) missed an extra point and three of his field goal attempts.
Elliot Walker caught a pass out of the backfield and had one man to beat running all alone to the end zone….instead of trying to go around, he tried to hurdle him and was tackled. We missed another FG. Pitt (we) lost 7-6. I was utterly devastated and cried all the way back to my dad’s house where I was staying. To this day, I have never had a loss of any game that stung more than that one. I thought we would never ever beat Penn State again!
In 1976 a state of nirvana occurred and Pitt won the National Championship! Dorsett ran wild. Tom Yewcic replaced an injured Matt Cavanaugh at QB for a few games but it didn’t matter. Pitt probably should have lost at Pitt Stadium to the Orangemen of Syracuse but a total homer call by official Paul Bertha saved the day for us. We rose to the number one ranking when an undefeated Michigan team was upset at home that same afternoon.
I missed my first Pitt Game in a long while that year in the Sugar Bowl because I had to work. I will never forgive myself for that. Pitt utterly crushed Georgia and all was right with the world! Pitt was #1 and the cover of Sports Illustrated was our Pitt Panther holding up a huge #1 Styrofoam Hand.
Next year in 1977-78 I would be one of about a 1000 Pitt fans who went to the Gator Bowl to see Pitt crush Clemson with a Sea of Orange filling the stadium. This team might have been as good or better than the championship one but during the game against Notre Dame at Pitt Stadium, Pitt lost its QBs Cavanaugh and Rick Trocano….I think…and our second team QB Wayne Adams fumbled five snaps from center as Pitt barely lost to a ND team that would go on to win the National Championship.
After that Pitt fielded great teams under Jackie Sherrill through 1982. Jackie was a heavy drinking coach, and a leech with women. They were not his only vices! Reportedly he owed a lot of money to gambling bookies and in 1982 Texas A&M offered to pay off his debts and hired him away from Pitt. THE END …..
Pitt made a SOP move and hired Foge Fazio an assistant coach to replace Sherrill. It was the first in a long line of disastrous hires for Pitt. He was 8-3-1 in his first year and hopes were high. Next year was a disaster as we went 4-6.
One great personal story of 1984 was a trip to State College with my buddy Nate (Theta Chi legend at Pitt). We had decided to attend the Pitt Penn State game at State College even though we were like 3-6 and had been very underperforming that year. We drank all the way up and discussed how we would leave at the half or third quarter if the rout was too bad. The game was all but over in the third quarter but it was Pitt that did the crushing with our backs running behind our terrific offensive line all day.
We stopped for more drinking and dinner at the Boiling Springs Tavern. Finally on the PA Turnpike on the way home, I see the worst sight one can imagine …A State Cop with his lights and siren on pulling me over. Uh frick’n Oh! I Was Dead! Nate is laughing his ass off!
We are both trashed! So…up comes the officer to the window and asks for my driver’s license and registration. Nate is pushing empty beer cans and open bottles of scotch under the seat so they won’t be seen.
The officer asks me if I’d been drinking and…..what was the point….I said yes, we’d been at the Penn State game. He says “Well I can understand then why you were drinking…the Lions sucked today”. Now Nate is pushing all our Pitt stuff under the seats with the open beer cans and bottles of scotch.
“Been a tough day for all of us boys…how far do you have left to go?” Nate was from Carlisle so we said about 11 miles. “I’m going to let you off with a warning he says….been a tough day for Pennsylvania!” We said “Hail to the Lion officer” He escorted us to the Carlisle Exit and we laughed for days.
For me the late 80’s and 90’s were a blur of losses and disappointments. Then came the hiring of AD’s who all knew better than us at what was good for Pitt….or Pittsburgh as Steve Pederson decided to put on our Uni’s. When he tore down my beloved Pitt Stadium in 1998, I swore off Pitt Football forever. I knew it was a horrible mistake to not have an on campus venue. I have yet to go to the Pete as a protest which I will break this fall due to the incredible hire of Jeff Capel. Thank you Heather!
I went through a horrible divorce (are there any good ones) and my company was bought out for the 4th time. Pitt football was not even on the radar for me in the 90’s.
In 2000, I married my next wife, a Hopkins grad and a teacher. We honeymooned in Nemacolin Woods (both sets of my parents are from Uniontown) and were at the Pitt BC Game that Saturday. Antonio Bryant had a very good day as we beat BC. I was re-addicted!
The Pitt coaching debacle of the last 10 years was brutal but I continued my season tickets and sit in Section 358 (second tier front row on the 35 yd line.) You will find me there (and probably hear me screaming) along with my embarrassed but now also addicted second wife Susan.
This last month has been an uptick in Pitt Sports and passion that I have not seen since 1974. Thank you Heather! I liked Pickett from the first day I snuck into practice and saw him throw last spring. I believe in my heart he is the “one” who will lead our football team out of the doldrums and back to prominence!
One of my Fiji frat brothers calls it “The Dreaded Pitt Optimism” like it is a monster or a disease which will always be crushed by SOP! (See Pitt Girls Softball for the latest!)
Just one more time while I am still on this earth, I would like Pitt Football to make a run like the 1975 and’76 seasons. I have a gut feeling that this year is the 1975 replica and next year will be like 1976!
Dreaded Pitt Optimism… here we go again!