Donora grad was star QB for Dragons, Mountaineers
Bernie Galiffa held West Virginia University's single-season passing mark for more than a quarter century.
But while collecting memorabilia during her son's 2002 induction into the Mid Mon Valley All Sports Hall of Fame, Olga Galiffa found in a scrapbook a letter from the Pitts-burgh Pirates inviting the Donora man for a tryout at Forbes Field.
“What a neat letter from Merrill Hess in the Pirate scouting department,” recalled Stephen Russell, general chairman of the Mid Mon Valley All Sports Hall of Fame.
“What a great combination he was with Hall of Famer Ken Griffey at his side in each of his sports. When we call Donora the Home of Champions, it is easy to see why with players of this caliber.”
Galiffa was an all-around great athlete and great guy, recalled the people who knew him on and off the field. Galiffa's death Friday at 63 in Wilmington, N.C., is being mourned throughout the Valley.
Galiffa was a member of one of the Valley's more celebrated football families. His uncle, Arnold “Pope” Galiffa, was an All-American at Army who later split four seasons in the NFL and Canadian Football League.
His two older brothers also called signals, were Art, a standout quarterback at Tennessee, and Ron, a quarterback at Geneva College.
Before accepting West Virginia University's grant in aid, Bernie Galiffa had 125 football scholarship offers in 1968.
“Bernie's ability to keep a cool head in hot situations, and his uncanny proficiency in turning apparent failure into ultimate success enabled Galiffa to complete 51.9 percent of his career passes, which found only six falling into enemy hands,” according to a biography released during his 2002 induction into the Mid Mon Valley All Sports Hall of Fame.
Galiffa appeared in the Sports Illustrated “Faces in the Crowd” feature during his senior year at Donora High School, denoting that the slender quarterback completed 88 of 149 passes for 1,873 yards and 22 touchdowns, surpassing Joe Namath's single-season western Pennsylvania mark of 77 of 125 for 1,115 and 17 touchdowns.
Galiffa's gridiron accom-plishments as an option quarterback over a three-year varsity span — 249 pass completions on 479 attempts, good for 3,808 yards and 32 touchdowns — rewrote the record books for Donora football.
Dr. Charles Stacey was a history teacher at Donora High School at the time and fondly recalled Galiffa.
“Bernie was a great athlete and a great kid,” Stacey said. “He happened to be in Donora at a time that Donora had exceptional athletes like Bernie and Malcom Lomax and Ken Griffey Sr.”
Galiffa, whose favorite target was wide receiver and future Cincinnati Reds outfielder Ken Griffey Sr., guided the Dragons to an 8-0-1 record in 1967 and was named to the United Press International All-State team. Galiffa was selected outstanding Donora athlete for the graduating class of 1968.
Fran LaMendola was the basketball coach at Donora.
“He was a great team player and a great leader,” LaMendola said.
The Dragons won three straight section titles during Galiffa's time in Donora, and were 22-0 in his senior year before losing in the WPIAL playoffs to eventual state champion Laurel Highlands.
“He was a steady performer and an all-around good athlete,” LaMendola said. “His influence, they felt it.”
Galiffa was inducted into the Ringgold Hall of Fame in November.
Rudy Andabaker, Mid Mon Valley Sports Hall of Famer, was Galiffa's high school football coach. During Andabaker's playing days, his teammates included Arnold Galiffa, Roscoe “The Rambler” Ross and “Deacon Dan” Towler.
“But Bernie's the greatest quarterback there ever was at Donora,” Andabaker said at Galiffa's hall of fame induction.
At West Virginia, Galiffa completed 164 of 334 passes for 2,496 yards during his senior year. That single-season passing record stood at WVU until it was surpassed in 1998 by future NFL quarterback Marc Bulger.
Stacey and LaMendola recalled traveling to Morgantown to watch Galiffa quarterback the Mountaineers.
“He was a great all-around kid, a gentleman,” Stacey said.
“Bernie always was a nice kid,” LaMendola added.
Galiffa's college accolades included the Playboy Magazine, September 1972, All-American squad as quarterback, the Chevrolet Most Valuable Player against Penn State in 1972, the Ira E. Rogers Outstanding Football Player Award, the Eastern College Athletic Conference Division I All-Star football squad.
He climaxed his football career with a stint in 1976-77 with the semi-professional Ohio Valley Panthers. Galiffa turned down a shot at the NFL after the New York Giants offered him a free agent contract.
“He was a most gracious and charming inductee for the local sports hall of fame in 2002,” Russell said. “He made sure I had all the necessary material for his bio and actually took the time to send me a note to say thanks for the efforts put forth.
“He was a great three-sport player — football, basketball, baseball.”
Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or firstname.lastname@example.org.