Pitt's oldest known living football letterman turns 100
Former Pitt football player Bill Glassford plans to treat Saturday — his birthday — like any other day.
He will wake up and launch into his daily exercise routine, first pressing his feet against a wall for 10 to 15 minutes. “To circulate the blood in my legs,” he said.
Then he'll walk around his building in the Scottsdale, Ariz., sunshine. Finally, he'll return for about an hour of floor exercise before breakfast.
“At my age and where I'm at, I have to do something,” Glassford said. “I want to live a little bit.”
Glassford has lived a lot. He will celebrate his 100th birthday Saturday and then Tuesday will travel with his son, Gary, to Las Vegas, where they will meet five members of the Nebraska football team Bill coached from 1949-55. He started this birthday ritual with nine former players.
Glassford's connection to football stretches into the 1930s, making him the oldest known living Pitt football letterman.
“That's what they tell me,” he said.
Born in Lancaster, Ohio, in 1914, Glassford played on the offensive and defensive lines for former Pitt coach Jock Sutherland from 1934-36, earning All-American honors his senior season and helping the Panthers compile a record of 23-3-2, including a 21-0 victory against Washington in the 1937 Rose Bowl. Three ratings services declared Pitt national champion in 1934 and '36.
Glassford, captain of the '36 team, said Sutherland demanded perfection and conducted tough practices with plenty of running.
“You ran the ball a certain way. You tackled a certain way,” he said. “There were certain ways you did things, over and over and over.”
Despite his age, Glassford said he is “completely healthy.”“All my vitals are perfect,” he said. He admits, however, to being “legally blind.”
“I can see your face, but I couldn't make out the details of it,” he said.
He also gets irked when callers speak too fast over the telephone, and he said he watches football games with a device that amplifies sound.
He also keeps up with the current Pitt team.
“I understand the coach is a nice guy,” he said of Paul Chryst.
He said he almost was a Chryst predecessor. He said he was offered the Pitt job twice by former athletic director Tom Hamilton. But in those days, coaches honored contracts.
“I wanted to take the job, but I had signed a contract (with Nebraska),” he said. “It was difficult talking to my wife (Castle Shannon's Alma “Dee” Waterman, who died in 1982) because she was from Pittsburgh.
“I was very sad about (turning down the job), but you have to move on.”
Pitt officials recently sent Glassford a letterman's jacket.
“He is quite proud of it,” his son said. “He shows it off to everyone at the adult center where he lives.”
Some say Glassford also is the oldest living professional football player. He played one season (1937) for the Cincinnati Bengals of the American Football League II, a short-lived rival of the NFL. In fact, he was the target of a bidding war between the leagues.
“A Detroit (Lions) man came to see me, and he said they wanted to sign me to a salary of $75 per game,” Glassford said. “I said, ‘I'll think about it.'
“The next day, a man from Cincinnati came and told me they were starting a franchise and they would like to sign me. He said, ‘I understand (the Lions) offered $75. If you sign with us, I'll give you $100.' Twenty-five dollars was a lot of money in those days.”
Glassford played one season in Cincinnati before a friend helped him get a telephone interview with Manhattan coach Herb Koff, who had an opening for an assistant.
“(Koff) said, ‘I'll call you,' ” Glassford said.
That wasn't good enough, so he told his wife, “I better get on that horse.”
He borrowed his brother-in-law's 1936 Ford and drove to New York City, where one morning Koff found him sitting outside his office.
“He said, ‘Who are you?' ” Glassford said. “I told him, and we talked for a while.”
Koff offered Glassford the job for $1,000: 10 monthly payments of $100.
That triggered a 19-year coaching career that included stops at Carnegie Tech, Yale, New Hampshire (where he was head coach for three years) and Nebraska.
Glassford, who was inducted into the University of Nebraska Football Hall of Fame in 2002, had a 31-35-3 record with the Cornhuskers, but he stabilized a program that had gone through six coaches in the previous nine seasons. From 1941-61, Nebraska had three winning teams. Glassford coached all three.
He left coaching in 1955, took his Pitt business administration degree and moved to Phoenix to enter the insurance business.
“I think I burned myself out,” he said of coaching. “I had enough.”
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.
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