Why Pitt & Pitt Football Mean So Much to Me

Another great Pitt Bio submitted this time by Justin. What a great memory and a wonderful way with words. Plus he thinks the POV is the best around and for that I thank him…

I was born in Donora, PA, a Mon Valley steel mill town founded in the early 1900’s and populated by many European immigrants to America and Southern blacks who moved up to northern industrial centers, nearly all of whom worked in the steel mills.  Never numbering more than 13,000 residents, it still produced an amazing number of sports champions, the first generation of children of those hard-working steelworkers. The school’s colors were black and orange, the colors of the flames and smoke from the mills.  (Consider the current powerhouse Clairton HS that has the same school colors.)

Donora, now pretty much a very rusty rust belt town and much smaller now, still calls itself the Home of Champions.  Here are just some of them: Baseball Hall of Famers “Stan the Man” Musial and Ken “Junior” Griffey; Ken’s father Ken, Sr., a member of the Cincinnati Reds’ “Big Red Machine” ; Arnold “Pope” Galliffa, Army Football All-American quarterback and College Football Hall of Famer; “Deacon” Dan Towler, W & J Little All-American running back who played for the Los Angeles Rams and actually became a minister; and Lou “Bimbo” Cecconi, a Donora HS great, a State of Pennsylvania and a WPIAL Hall of Famer, and a Pitt QB and RB of note and also an assistant coach.

Except for the Griffeys, all these sports greats made their initial marks in the 1940’s when I was a child.  Buddy Griffey, Junior’s grandfather and Senior’s father, played with Stan the Man on the Donora baseball team in 1939.  As I grew up, I heard all about these greats, but Bimbo made the greatest impression on me, probably because of his unique nickname.  That was how Bimbo’s Pitt first became It to me.

As I grew up in the 1950’s Pitt’s football teams had some real success by winning tough intersection games as an Eastern independent.  Two major bowl games were achieved in the 1950’s, both against Georgia Tech, and both of them losses. Pitt had an African-American player, Bobby Grier, for the Sugar Bowl game, and controversy erupted when the segregationist Georgia governor called for both teams not to play each other.

Headlines made this controversy known nationwide. The game was eventually played, making it the first integrated major college football game played in the Deep South. Ironically, another problem came about when a controversial interference call in the game was made against Grier, setting Georgia Tech up on the one yard line for the game’s only score, 7-0.  Pitt lost to Tech in the Gator Bowl the next year, 21-14. I never forgot those Tech games, and to this day, I hate it when Pitt can’t win the game against GT.

About this time, my beautiful first cousin Frances was on the cheering squad at Pitt.  She fell in love with Charles “Corky” Cost, a star running back on the Pitt bowl teams in the 50’s.  I remember seeing Fran’s picture in a Sunday Pittsburgh newspaper in her cheering outfit. They eventually married and still are together.  He and his family’s construction business grew to great proportions, and Pitt received the family’s largesse through buildings on campus and donations.  Although I was not close to the Cost family, I was still proud that through him and Fran Pitt benefited and was not forgotten by them.

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