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You have to dig deep for history of the Pitt/Stanford series

Jerry DiPaola
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Although he was 16-3 at Stanford at the outset of the 1940s, Clark D. Shaughnessy’s three-year tenure (1943-45) as Pitt’s coach didn’t go well. It was marked by white helmets and empty seats at Pitt Stadium.

When Pitt plays Stanford in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 31, the game won’t be the first between the two schools. But if you can remember any of the previous three, you’ve lived a long and full life.

Many thanks to author and Pitt historian Sam Sciullo Jr., whose coffee table book “University of Pittsburgh Football Vault,” provided many of the details that had been lost in time.

• Dec. 30, 1922, at Palo Alto, Calif., Pitt 16, Stanford 7

Before the start of the season, Pitt coach Glenn Scobey “Pop” Warner displayed the kind of loyalty toward an employer you never see in college football today.

The legendary coach announced plans to leave Pitt for Stanford. But not until he fulfilled the terms of his Pitt contract that called for him to coach through the 1923 season.

Surprisingly (by today’s standards, anyway), Pitt and Stanford officials had no problem with that arrangement, which amounted to turning Warner into lame-duck coach for two years.

Yet Warner made another unusual move before the season. He sent Pitt assistants Andy Kerr and Tiny Thornhill to Stanford to run that program until 1924. That was the end of a turbulent 1922 for Kerr, who earlier had been replaced as Pitt’s basketball coach by another legend, Dr. H.C. “Doc” Carlson.

The cross-country trip to Palo Alto was rare for a regular-season game, so it amounted to a bowl game for Pitt. A trainload of players and coaches arrived in San Francisco on Christmas, and the game was played Dec. 30, a month after the previous game, a 14-0 victory against Penn State.

The victory finalized an 8-2 season.

• Jan. 2, 1928, Rose Bowl, Stanford 7, Pitt 6

Long before the Eagles sang about Winslow, Ariz., in their 1972 hit song “Take It Easy,” the Pitt football team stopped at the small desert town on its way to Pasadena, Calif., for a practice.

Pitt’s football media guide describes the trip to the West Coast as resembling “a politician’s whistle-stop tour — wherever Pitt was at lunchtime during its trek west, it practiced.”

“The routine was simple: deboard the train around 11:15, explore the day’s town until noon, lunch at 12, walk lunch off, then practice; reboard the train.”

The team practiced in Dodge City, Kansas, Albuquerque, N.M., and Winslow before arriving in Pasadena.

The game matched Warner, now the coach at Stanford, with one of his former players, Pitt coach John B. “Jock” Sutherland.

The 1927 Pitt team (8-1-1) was one of the school’s all-time best, allowing a total of 20 points in its first nine games. The only blemish in the regular season was a scoreless tie with Washington & Jefferson.

But Pitt lost the Rose Bowl, 7-6, when Stanford’s Frank Wilton picked up a teammate’s fumble and carried it 1 yard into the end zone.

It was Pitt’s first of 33 bowl appearances and its first of four Rose Bowl berths in 10 years.

• Nov. 26, 1932, Pitt Stadium, Pitt 7, Stanford 0

Sutherland was still coach in 1932, the ninth year of his 15-season tenure at Pitt. To this day, it’s the longest tenure of any football coach in school history.

Pitt defeated Stanford, 7-0, at 7-year-old Pitt Stadium in the defense’s eighth shutout.

Little more than a month later, Pitt (8-1-2) stretched its Rose Bowl losing streak to three in a 35-0 loss to USC.

• Criss-crossing coaches

Warner wasn’t the only coach to go from Pitt to Stanford. Eighty-one years later, Walt Harris did it after leading Pitt to its only BCS bowl appearance after the 2004 season. Pitt lost, 35-7, to Utah on New Year’s Day 2005. Harris spent only two seasons at Stanford, compiling a 6-17 record before he was replaced by Jim Harbaugh.

Coach Clark D. Shaughnessy traveled in the other direction after coaching at Stanford from 1940-41 and winning 16 of 19 games, including the 1941 Rose Bowl.

Shaughnessy, who coached Pitt from 1943-45, replaced the single wing with the “T” formation and — believe it or not — dressed his Pitt teams in white helmets and red jerseys. He liked the color Stanford Red and believed it made the player’s appear bigger.

But the war years were not kind to Shaughnessy, who had trouble finding capable players and finished 10-17 in his three seasons. In 1944, the smallest crowd in Pitt Stadium history (1,500) showed up to watch Pitt beat Bethany, 50-13.

Wrote The Owl, as Pitt’s yearbook was known in those days: “For four war years, the men of our University have been playing a far more serious game than any that they have faced at Pitt.”

“I’ve always believed,” Sciullo said, “1940-45 and 1965-72 were two of the worst extended periods for Pitt football, in terms of record, fan apathy and lack of commitment by the administration.”

Shaughnessy was the first Pitt football coach who wasn’t a Pitt graduate. Since then, six of 23 graduated from the university, including only one this century (Dave Wannstedt). In basketball, every Pitt coach from 1922-1980 (Doc Carlson to Tim Grgurich) earned at least one degree from Pitt (none since).

Get the latest news about Pitt football and all things Panthers athletics.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at [email protected] or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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