Pitt greats gather for Covert's number to be retired
No coach has won 11 games at Pitt since Jackie Sherrill did it for a third consecutive season in 1981.
So if his tactics sound strange — and might get him fired or suspended today — he always will be remembered as the man in charge when Jimbo Covert switched from defense to offense.
Sherrill joined several Pitt greats, including Dan Marino, Bill Fralic, Mike Ditka and Johnny Majors, on Saturday at Heinz Field to witness Covert's uniform No. 75 be retired during halftime of the Notre Dame game.
It's hard to label Covert, who grew up in Baden and went to Freedom High School, the greatest offensive lineman in Pitt history when Fralic, Russ Grimm and Mark May also played there.
But Covert was a two-time All-American, College Football Hall of Famer and went on to be a Super Bowl champion during an eight-year NFL career with the Chicago Bears.
Before the game Saturday, Sherrill, who once famously had a bull castrated to fire up his Mississippi State players, told the story of how Covert was moved to offense.
One day, he brought out the boxing gloves to help some of his Pitt players settle their differences, or as he put it: “Have them say happy birthday to each other.”
It was that day in 1979 when Covert hurt his shoulder, forcing a move the following spring to the offensive line, which was fine with Sherrill.
“He was a defensive lineman playing offensive tackle,” Sherrill said.
Covert said he was “overwhelmed” to have his jersey retired — he is the 10th Pitt player and third offensive lineman so honored — but he seemed just as proud of the relationships formed with his teammates. Other retired Pitt jerseys included those worn by Marino, Ditka, , May, Fralic, Tony Dorsett, Larry Fitzgerald, Marshall Goldberg, Hugh Green and Joe Schmidt.
“We've been friends since we were all 18 and still are,” Covert said of his teammates. “Pitt is the glue.”
His only regret was that his father and his beloved offensive line coach Joe Moore were not around to see his jersey retired.
“I owe my entire career to Joe,” he said. “He made me into the player I was.”
Marino took advantage of the situation Friday to tour the Oakland neighborhood where he grew up.
“I drove down Frazier Street where my grandmother grew up, drove Parkview (where he grew up and could see the Cathedral of Learning from his front porch), went by Dan Marino Field and up to Schenley Park,” he said.
Marino addressed the Pitt team at breakfast, reminding players of the opportunity at hand.
“Funny, we talk about the history, Coach Sherrill is here and Jimbo, but it's about making history,” he said. “For young kids, it's time. In our time, we made our history. Now it's time for them to make their history.”
Marino and his former teammates were in agreement that Pitt is headed in the right direction with first-year coach Pat Narduzzi. But Marino did a little investigation of his own. He said he talked to some Miami Dolphins coaches who are familiar with Narduzzi.
“They said you should be excited,” Marino said. “He's a real guy, a real coach.”