Some of the greatest athletes in Pitt history started telling stories Friday on the night they joined the university’s inaugural Hall of Fame class.
Did you know?
• Jackie Sherrill spent so much time at Tony Dorsett’s house while recruiting him, “you would think he was one of my brothers,” Dorsett said. “He was there every day.”
• When Billy Knight scored 37 points at UCLA, legendary coach John Wooden did something he never had done previously: He walked across the court to shake the hand of an opponent.
• Dan Marino’s house on Parkview Avenue in Oakland was only a 10-minute walk from the 50-yard line at Pitt Stadium.
• Track and field athlete Trecia-Kaye Smith, a native of Jamaica, had no idea where Pittsburgh was when she was in high school. But as a student interested in medicine, she visited the campus, looked around, saw all the hospitals and said, “This is the place for me.”
The 16-member class includes basketball players Charles Smith and Knight, football players Dorsett, Ditka, Marino, Hugh Green, Marshall Goldberg and Bill Fralic, gymnast Lisa Shirk, swimmer Kathy Stetler, track and field athletes Smith, Roger Kingdom, John Woodruff and Herb Douglas, and coaches Doc Carlson and Jock Sutherland.
Sutherland, whose teams recorded 79 shutouts, Goldberg, Woodruff and Carlson were inducted posthumously.
The highlight of the evening at Petersen Events Center was a question-and-answer session conducted by legendary broadcaster Bill Hillgrove, called “Mr. Golden Throat” by Knight. Hillgrove is in his 45th season calling Pitt football games, and this basketball season will be his 50 th .
Douglas, 96, was the oldest of the inductees. He grew up in Hazelwood, and you could hear the pride in his voice when he announced, “Our family still owns the property my grandfather bought in 1918.”
The only distinction that meant more to him was winning a bronze medal in the long jump in the 1948 Olympics.
Kingdom won two high hurdle gold medals in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics, and when Hilllgrove asked him to describe what it was like to hear the national anthem played in his honor, he said it was “overwhealming.”
“Kind of like what I’m feeling right now,” he said. “It is your one moment in time. Thirty years later, you say, ‘Did I do that?’ ”
Ditka, who played football, baseball and basketball at Pitt, said he never became a dentist.
“There are probably a lot of people out there happy that I didn’t make it,” he said. “I forgot you had to take chemistry. What does chemistry have to do with dentistry?”
Ditka said he also punted at Pitt. “I could lift my leg, which I can’t do now,” he said.
While playing basketball, he covered West Virginia’s Jerry West.
“I guarded him for 12 minutes and he had 27 points and I had five fouls,” Ditka said. “That’s the truth. You could look it up.”
Marino said “it was a no-brainer” for him to attend Pitt, but he took all five of the recruiting trips allowed by the NCAA. “I had to have some fun before I went to Pitt,” he said.
He thanked Hillgrove for reminding him that the first three passes of his career were an interception, a near-interception and a touchdown pass. He had to reminded that he threw it to Ralph Stills. The man who reminded him? His coach, Sherrill, seated near the stage.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at email@example.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.