Here it comes. At approximately 10:30 pm EST we PITT fans will experience the long awaited end of PITT’s membership in the Big East Conference. Has it been good for us and vice versa? Will we miss it? That depends on how you look at things in a historical perspective.
Undoubtedly PITT’s greatest successes on the football field have happened when the program had no conference affiliation at all. Eight of our nine national championships took place prior to 1939 when there were no formal football conferences as we know them today. Those championship years, from 1915 (Pop Warner as head coach) to 1939 (Jock Sutherland), are the bedrock of PITT’s football tradition. Hard enough to believe now but PITT was the standard of football excellence in the first third of the 20th century.
My father and mother, who were born in 1917 and 1919 respectively, were students at PITT at the end of that championship era. While I was growing up and attending PITT games I heard countless stories about Sutherland, All-Americans wide receiver Bill Daddio and the great Marshall Goldberg running the ball for scores. Great for them – they had a reason to brag about PITT football and they did.
It was a golden age for PITT but, as does tend to happen with us, it was also a precursor of hard times for the program. From 1939 until 1976 PITT had exactly one season with over eight wins. The hard truth is that most of those years were sub-.500 seasons and from 1966 until 1968 we racked up three 1-9 seasons in a row, and yes, we attended every home game regardless.
Then all of a sudden PITT was thrust back into winning seasons and a national championship year. Certainly the 1970s and early 1980s built up on that traditional bedrock to return the program back to national rankings. We all know about how Johnny Majors, Matt Cavanaugh and Tony Dorsett gave us a championship in 1976. It was a fantastic year and we looked to have a bright football future ahead of us.