Pitt Panthers History
Western University of Pennsylvania (WUP)
The Pittsburgh Panthers football team began humbly in 1889 when the University was still known as the Western University of Pennsylvania (WUP). The small group was organized by the self-appointed quarterback Bert Smyers and self-appointed center John Scott, who both barely knew how to play the game. They, along with 12 others, including the mascot, played and lost their only game that season to Shadyside Academy. Next year they played three games, earning a record of 1-2.
The first coach for WUP would arrive in 1893 in the presence of former Franklin and Marshall College and Princeton University football player, Anson Forney Harrold. This year also saw the first game against Penn State (Pitt lost 32-0). Two years later the first game against West Virginia, one that would become to be known as the “Backyard Brawl,” was played (Pitt lost 8-0).
University of Pittsburgh (Pitt)
In 1904 WUP completed its first true football season, finishing 10-0. This was not the last time the team would go undefeated. After WUP moved from Observatory Hill in Allegheny City to Oakland, the University of Pittsburgh was born. As Pitt, the football team over the subsequent years would complete seven more undefeated seasons. In fact, the Panthers had 17 seasons where they were one win away from being undefeated.
Coaching, players, and teamwork
These accomplishments were achieved through strong coaching, players, and teamwork. Pitt has been fortunate being home to two coaching legends: Glenn Scobey "Pop" Warner and John B. “Jock” Sutherland. Under Warner’s leadership (1915-1923), the Panthers achieved an impressive record of 60 wins, 12 losses, and 4 ties. He would also coach three Pitt teams to championship seasons (1915, 1916, and 1918). The 1916 team was special considering that playing under Warner that season were future Pitt legends John Bain “Jock” Sutherland (future Panthers football coach) and Henry Clifford “Doc” Carlson (future Pitt Panthers basketball coach). Jock Sutherland coached the Panthers from 1928 to 1934 and achieved an impressive 111–20–12 record. He led the Panthers to four Rose Bowl appearances, five national championships, and seven eastern championships. Sutherland also had the talents of the “Dream Backfield" (1936-1938) comprised of John Chickerneo, Dick Cassiano, Harold Stebbins, and Marshall Goldberg.
Three Pitt players gained entry into the All-American ranks under Warner: J. Huber "Hube" Wagner (1913), Robert “Bob” Peck (1915), and James Hernon (1915). Later inductees included Pitt football greats George “Tank” MacLaren, Jock Sutherland, Marshall Goldberg, Bill Daddio, Mike Ditka, Tony Dorsett, Matt Cavanaugh, Hugh Green, Bill Fralic, and Larry Fitzgerald, to name a few. The Panthers have had at least 88 players named to the All-American ranks.
1956 Sugar Bowl, Victory off the Field
The Pitt Panthers won a major victory off the field during the 1956 Sugar Bowl. Pitt may have lost the game to Georgia Tech, but the color barrier would be forever broken with the courage of Panthers full back, Robert “Bobby” Grier, who became the first African American to play in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on January 2, 1956. The Governor of Georgia strongly opposed Grier's participation in the game, as did the Board of Trustees from Georgia Tech, who claimed that Georgia Tech would elect to forfeit the game if Grier was not benched. Nonetheless, Grier had strong support of his teammates and the University of Pittsburgh, who vowed "No Grier, no game." Support for Grier also came from students and football players from Georgia Tech, who protested strongly against a forfeit and succeeded in seeing Grier take to the field in New Orleans. Pitt lost the game, 7-0, mostly due to a disputed first quarter pass interference penalty which was called on Grier. Photographic evidence later strongly indicated the referee's call was incorrect.
Past Achievements and the Future
The Pitt Panthers have won nine national titles, three under “Pop” Warner, five under Jock Sutherland, and one under Johnny Majors, the two-time Panthers coach (1973-1976 and 1993-1996). The 1976 team under Majors not only was undefeated, but included Tony Dorsett, Matt Cavanaugh and a Sugar Bowl victory.
This year begins a new chapter in Pitt Panthers history as we join the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). Who knows where this road will take us?
Photo Exhibit in Hillman Library
These 15 photos were part of a photo exhibit that was available to view in Hillman Library to kick off Pitt's Homcoming 2013. They remained on display from September 23, 2013 until January 17, 2014 attracting hundreds of visitors.