Remembering the 1974 Blue and Gold Game

With the passing two months ago of Myron Cope and Bill Currie and the Blue-Gold Game upon us, it should be mentioned that Cope and Currie actually squared off against each other as coaches of the 1974 Blue-Gold Game.

While spring intrasquad games are not well-recalled affairs, this game may be the most remembered of all such games at the University of Pittsburgh because Cope often spoke of it to his radio listeners and included the story of the game in his book "Double Yoi!"

Cope and Currie, competing television commentators and radio talk show hosts for WTAE and KDKA, became honorary coaches for the game at the urging of then head-coach John Majors in an effort to create interest in the program.

"I had to find ways to improve the program through PR and publicity," Majors said. "Currie and Cope were the two highest profile people in the media at the time.

"I knew they'd create some interest and they'd talk about the game on the air and get people to come out."

So, after taking the two out for lunch in Mt. Washington Majors asked the two competing commentators to lead the split squads in two weeks.

"We'd divide the staffs and we'd pick the teams," remembered Jackie Sherrill, then Pitt's defensive coordinator and Cope's assistant on the Blue squad for the day. "If we had a starter, his backup went to the other team."

That meant Tony Dorsett, who had taken the Panthers from 1-10 in 1972 to the Fiesta Bowl in 1973, would be playing for Currie's Gold squad.

Undaunted, Cope devised a strategy to stop the great Pitt running back. He told his two fastest receivers if Dorsett was to break free for an apparent touchdown, they were to go on to the field from the sidelines and tackle him.

"Sure it's illegal," Cope said in his autobiography, "Double Yoi." "It's a 15-yard penalty tacked on to the spot of the foul. I'd rather give them 15 more yards than watch Dorsett go all the way."

"I don't recall that but if it's good enough for Myron it's good enough for me," Majors said.

"I said you can do it against any other player but you can't hurt Tony," Sherrill said.

Predictably, Dorsett was taken out after playing the first offensive series and with no long runs.

Cope believed Sherrill had tipped off Majors, who was sitting in the press box while Cope and Currie legitimately made strategic moves, and Majors did recall Cope having a dirty trick to stop Dorsett.

But Sherrill insists Dorsett's short stint wasn't a reaction to Cope's proposed deviltry.

"That wasn't it. Coach Majors took him out because he didn't want him to get hurt. Majors was good at not getting players hurt in practice."

Admittedly, in the 1954 Cotton Bowl Rice's Dickie Moegle was awarded a touchdown when Alabama's Tommy Lewis came off the sideline to halt Moegle's breakaway run at midfield, but such historical anecdotes should not get in the way of a good story.

"Myron was more out to have fun but he really wanted to win," Sherrill said. "Currie was more professional but Myron was there not to lose."

Still, it was Currie's Gold team that won the game, 31-19 despite his choice of clothes.

"I remember hearing rumors of Cope's secret plan, but all I really can remember was laughing at Currie's outfit," said then-defensive back Ed Brosky, today the head coach of the semipro Pittsburgh Colts. "He had on plaid pants!"

"[Currie] would dress funny and I think he did that day," remembered defensive tackle Dave Janicisin, then a game captain and today a senior vice president at Merrill Lynch.

By comparison, Cope opted for a baseball cap with a light collared shirt and dark pants.

What most players remembered from the game was not even which side they played for, but instead the pre-game talk Cope and Currie gave the two teams.

"They had a gift for storytelling and it was a privilege just to listen to them," said quarterback Billy Daniels, today a senior vice president for the Bank of New York Mellon. "They had everyone captivated with kind of off-color stories."

"I remember after [Cope] talked to them the players would mimic his voice," Sherrill added. "It was a really big deal he'd coach."

What the game did was kick off a lighthearted era in spring football at Pitt.

The previous year, 1973, was Majors' first at Pitt. While most people recall him recruiting 73 scholarship players for the season, what isn't remembered as well is Majors had his own version of "The Junction Boys" in which he estimates 17 scholarship players quit the team.

"I never intentionally ran anyone off. We inherited a team with some outstanding young men that I have great respect for, but we had some undisciplined players as well," Majors said.

Players ran after the 1973 contest. The roster was so thin that after linebacker Rod Kirby had to leave due a death in his family, assistant coach Keith Schroeder had to unexpectedly take his place after a late Friday night on the town.

But according to Majors, Cope and Currie helped increase attendance in 1974 and by 1976 the Blue-Gold game was so popular a second one was played to a large crowd at Hershey Park Stadium.

When Sherrill became head coach in 1977, he had former Panthers stars play against the current team.

This allowed Mike Ditka to suit up one last time, as well as College Football Hall of Fame coach Herb McCracken, who played on Pop Warner's 1918 National Champions.

"I brought back the older players but the rule was you couldn't touch them or you could just keep going," said Sherrill, who himself would offer his players a chance to rough up their coach!

"I remember Russ Grimm and Mark May were in the huddle and said ‘I'll get him,'" Sherrill said. "Russ tried to knock me down!"

"That was the thing about Pitt. They did things like that," Brosky said. "Majors and Sherrill were serious about football but they also were serious about keeping it fun."

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