Joe Walton, Blue and Gold All the Way

Joe Walton's family has had a long association with the University of Pittsburgh, dating back to the 1930's when Joe's dad, Frank Walton, was an All-American tackle at the Oakland campus. Joe Walton, himself, played tight end for Pitt from 1954 to 1956, earning first team All-American honors in 1956. Joe's son, Joe Jr., lettered in 1974. Unbelievably, Joe Walton came very close to not being a Panther.

"My cousin, Lou D'Achille, was at the University of Indiana," said Walton. I had visited a number of schools and I was starting to get confused. I can see why the NCAA now limits the number of visits you can take. After talking to Lou, I started leaning toward Indiana."

That all changed when Walton learned that his father was seriously ill.

"After I heard how sick my dad was, I wanted to stay home with him and Mom," Walton said. "In fact, he died on the day I started classes at Pitt. I was glad that I was at Pitt and not out at Indiana when he died."

Even though Pitt did not pass much in those days, Walton still managed to etch his name in the record books. The sure-handed tight end scored eight touchdowns on only 16 catches during the 1955 season to set a school record for TD receptions in a season. Those eight scores also topped all NCAA receivers in 1955. The next season, he caught 21 passes for six more touchdowns, giving him 14 total TD receptions for his career. That record stood for over 20 years before being surpassed.

"In those days, nobody really threw the ball a lot. It was three yards, three yards, four yards, and a cloud of dust. We only averaged about nine passes a game. When we wanted to open it up, we might throw 12 passes in a game," laughed Walton.

For evidence of how few times Pitt threw the pigskin in those days, consider this fact: Corny Salvatera, who was the Panthers' leading passer in 1956, threw only 80 passes the entire season, completing 33 of them.

Walton topped the Panthers in scoring in 1955 with 48 points. Salvatera and he tied for the team scoring lead in 1956 with 37 points each.

Pitt went 4-5, 7-4 and 7-3-1 during Walton's three years on the varsity, the last two being under coach John Michelosen. Both the 1955 and 1956 Panther squads were ranked 10th in the final Associated Press polls and culminated in bowl game matchups with southern power Georgia Tech. Unfortunately, the Panthers came up just short each time. Georgia Tech won 7-0 in the Sugar Bowl and 21-14 a year later at the Gator Bowl.

"Both were real good football games, recalled Walton. "Georgia Tech just had so much more speed than we did. Playing in those two bowl games was a great experience."

Walton wasn't finished playing bowl games as he played in the 1957 Hula Bowl a few days after the Gator Bowl. He then played in the College All-Star Game in the summer of 1957, before heading off to the Washington Redskins training camp as their second round draft selection.

"A little item that a lot of people don't know is that I actually played cornerback my first year with the Redskins," said Walton. "I didn't really play end in the pros until my second year, 1958."

Walton is entering his 10th season as the head football coach at Robert Morris University in Coraopolis. He has compiled a 61-28-1 career college coaching record at RMU. Prior to starting the Robert Morris program from scratch, Walton spent 34 years in the National Football League, beginning as a player with the Washington Redskins (1957-60) and New York Giants (1961-64). After retiring as a player, Walton spent time as an NFL scout, assistant coach, coordinator and head coach. The Beaver Falls native served as the New York Jets head coach from 1983-89, posting a 53-57-1 mark.

"Pitt has always meant a lot to my family," said Walton. "It's a great school, and I'm proud to have played there and graduated from there."

Chuck Greenwood

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