Basketball player-turned football player Sam Clancy headlines Pitt Hall of Fame class
Jackie Sherrill knew a good football player when he saw one, even if he was wearing basketball shorts and sneakers.
“Come out and play for me,” Sam Clancy said, recalling the recruiting pitch from Pitt’s football coach. “I’ll make you an All-American.”
But Clancy was a Pitt basketball player. To that, Sherrill said, “Sam, there are no 6-5 centers in the NBA.”
In a room full of All-Americans, All-Pros and Olympians at Petersen Events Center on Friday night, Clancy might have been the most accomplished athlete of them all.
With the basketball court at the Pete transformed into a ballroom, Pitt inducted its second Hall of Fame class, a group led by Clancy and football coach Johnny Majors, each of whom received a standing ovation.
Not only did Clancy score 1,671 points and gather 1,372 rebounds in four seasons at Pitt, but he played 12 years of professional football without playing a down in college.
“I only played football in high school (Fifth Avenue/Brashear) for recreation,” said Clancy, now the coordinator of Pitt’s Varsity Letter Club. “I played because Warner Macklin, our point guard, and Puffy Kennedy, our two guard, went out for the team.
“I played so I could protect our guards. So they could give me the basketball.”
Yet it was football where Clancy made his living, thanks in large part to Sherrill, who recommended Clancy to the Seattle Seahawks.
As Clancy tells the story, he went to play for the Billings (Montana) Volcanos in the Continental Basketball Association in 1982 when Chuck Allen, the Seahawks’ player personnel director called.
Clancy had been cut by the Phoenix Suns, who made him their third-round draft choice in 1981, and he was in the mood for anything. Especially when he saw 3 feet of snow outside his hotel in Billings.
A few months later, back home in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, he was going out to shoot hoops when his mom, Rosie, told him there was a Mr. Allen on the phone. It was the day of the NFL Draft.
The Seahawks wanted to sign Clancy as an undrafted free agent. But when Clancy told Allen the Washington Redskins also were courting him, Allen said, “Let me call you back.”
“I hung up the phone,” Clancy said, “and two minutes later, he called back and said, ‘Congratulations, we just drafted you in the 11th round.’
“I was so naive. I said, ‘What does that mean?’ ”
“It means you get a signing bonus,” Allen said.
Which turned out to be $10,000.
Before going to Pitt, Clancy was a highly coveted basketball recruit. He chose Pitt and coach Tim Grgurich — “The dude probably ate about 50 times at our table,” Clancy said — over Ohio State and N.C. State.
He said he considered Ohio State because Woody Hayes said he could play both sports. N.C. State was in the picture briefly, Clancy said, “because every basketball player was in a Corvette.”
When he enrolled at Pitt, Clancy often ran into Sherrill, whose football argument was persuasive. He did attend a few practices one spring, but he stuck with basketball.
“I think if I went out for football, I was letting down a best friend in Tim Grgurich,” Clancy said. “He was that good of a friend.”
The other inductees:
Basketball player Charlie Hyatt (posthumously): A three-time All-American, he played on two national champions at Pitt (1928 and ‘30).
“He was one of the founding fathers of Pitt basketball,” said E.J. Borghetti, executive associate athletic director.
The Peery family (posthumously): Rex, who compiled a .725 winning percentage, coached his sons, Ed and Hugh, who were three-time All-Americans.
“We never had carpet in our living room. We only had the threads left,” said Rex Peery’s sister, Ann. “Every night when they got home, they had another wrestling workout.”
Joe Schmidt: An All-American linebacker at Pitt, he played in 10 Pro Bowls and was a 10-time All-Pro with the Detroit Lions.
Lorri Johnson: She was the all-time scoring leader at Pitt (men or women) with 2,312 career points.
Najuma Fletcher: From 1992-96, she was a 14-time All-American while competing in the high jump, long jump, triple jump and heptathlon.
Jimbo Covert: He was a two-time All-American on the offensive line. Said Dan Marino, who attended Friday’s ceremony: “He is one of the reasons I look so good today.”
Lee McRae: A former running back who turned to track and field, McRae was known as the fastest man on the planet after he broke Carl Lewis’ 55-meter indoor world record (six seconds).
Mark May: He played on the offensive line for three Pitt teams that finished in the top 10 in the Associated Press poll.
Don Hennon: He averaged 24.2 points per game before the 3-point shot. But he chose medicine and became a surgeon instead of pursuing professional basketball.
“I took care of my fellow man and helped them,” he said. “What regrets can I have?”
Sue Heon: She was an 11-time All-American swimmer and nine-time Big East champion.
Johnny Majors: He coached Pitt to its most recent national championship in football in 1976.
“He brought a pride and enthusiasm that this program had been lacking for too long,” Pitt historian Sam Sciullo Jr. said.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .