1963 No Bowl Team
By George Von Benko
It may be hard to imagine, but once there was a kinder, gentler time in college athletics; a time when it wasn't big business and bottom line; when football players were students first and athletes second.
This is about a football team that played during that time. One that finished ranked third in the nation with a 9-1 record, yet did not play in a postseason bowl game. That may seem hard to believe, but it happened to the 1963 Pittsburgh Panthers.
Pitt finished 3-7 in 1961 and 5-5 in 1962, but the Panthers had a solid cast returning in 1963. Modest expectations surrounded the '63 team, led by All-American halfback Paul Martha, quarterback Fred Mazurek, fullback Rick Leeson, and linemen John Maczuzak and Ernie Borghetti, another All-American.
'We had a good team,' Martha recalled. 'We had a lot of good football players, a lot of guys recruited out of high school and going on visits to the schools I had gone to Notre Dame, Duke, and Stanford. I knew we had a good team.'
Fullback Rick Leeson also sensed that the 1963 team was special.
'We had a pretty seasoned group of people,' Leeson stated. 'When we came in as freshmen we had a great season, We came in, and it just jelled together, and we knew we were going to be good.'
In today's age of nationwide recruiting, the 1963 Panthers would be an oddity. All but a couple of players came from within a 50-mile radius of Pittsburgh almost unheard of in college football today.
'Everybody was local,' Maczuzak said. 'It won't happen again the way the game has evolved, It's all national recruiting and it's a different game.'
The 1963 Panthers were a close knit team, which proved to be one of their strengths.
'We didn't have a huge team in terms of numbers,' end Al Grigaliunas recalled. 'I think the key factor was we really started the same 11 people for all 10 games. In fact, two guys got hurt before we started the season and they never really worked themselves back in the starting lineup because the other guys were playing well.'
In 1955, Pitt had reached into the past by selecting John Michelosen, who played under the legendary Jock Sutherland, as head coach. The '63 team's 9-1 record was the Panthers' best mark since Sutherland's national championship squad of 1937.
'He was sort of a Jock Sutherland-era type coach,' tackle Ernie Borghetti said of Michelosen. 'You weren't real friendly with him. He was a nice guy, but, I never had a discussion with him until I graduated, He was the boss, and he stood there, and you avoided him as much as possible.'
Pitt opened the year by defeating UCLA in Los Angeles, and added wins over Washington, California and West Virginia. Their lone loss was a 24-12 defeat in Annapolis at the hands of Roger Staubach and Navy.
The Panthers bounced back with wins over Syracuse, Notre Dame, Army, Miami and Penn State, but the Navy loss bothered them.
'Losing to Navy was extremely disappointing,' quarterback Fred Mazurek said. 'I felt very bad after the game, it was just one of those days. I was bothered by a bad toe coming into that game and that hampered me somewhat, Even though Roger Staubach played for them, I think we were capable of beating them six or seven times out of 10. But I had a very poor game, and I can't explain what happened.'
Halfback Bill Bodle is still haunted by the loss.
'When I came out of that game, I just felt I didn't do anything. I just had this empty feeling,' he said. 'It was more than just feeling like I played poorly. I just had this feeling that I didn't DO anything in the game. The game went by and nothing happened.'ÊÊ
Pitt's game with Penn State, scheduled for Nov. 23, was postponed until Dec. 7 because of President John F. Kennedy's assassination on Nov. 22. Kennedy's death and the game's subsequent postponement wound up hurting Pitt's bowl chances.
The Panthers had wanted to play in the Cotton or Orange Bowl, but ended up with a Sun Bowl bid because of the Penn State postponement. Pitt officials, hoping for something more attractive, turned down the Sun Bowl and got shutout completely.
'We wanted, to play Navy again,' Martha explained. 'In those days Ð and I shouldn't say this the bowl games weren't that big; they weren't like they are now. We knew how good we were, we knew who we had beaten that year, and we just wanted to play one more team again, and that was Navy.'
Pitt awarded the team members watches with the inscription 'Uninvited,' and they went down in history as the 'No Bowl Team.'
The players went on to flourish in their other endeavors, however.
The squad had 57 players graduate, 34 with advanced degrees. There were 15 dentists, six educators, five engineers, three lawyers, three physicians, two NFL coaches, one college coach and a chiropractor.
'That's what I appreciate the most,' Mazurek commented. 'We were both athletes and scholars.'
The University of Pittsburgh will honor the 1963 No Bowl Team during the Oct. 25 Homecoming game with Syracuse at Heinz Field.