Fans of the Pitt Panthers will be quick to tell you that the right nickname can go a long way toward shaping how others see you. In 1909, a year after earning full-fledged university status, the school selected a bold moniker that they hoped would strike fear into the hearts of their opponents. By 1919, hot off the heels of national championship wins in 1915, ‘16 and ‘18, it was clear that the right choice had been made.
While the school was first established in 1787, it wasn’t until the arrival of coach Glen "Pop" Warner in the fall of 1915 that Pitt began to receive praise for its athletic accomplishments. With Warner patrolling the sidelines, the Panthers won 30 games in a row right out of the gate, including a perfect season in ‘16 that led sports writers across the country to hail the squad as the “Greatest 11 in the World.” The three titles won by Warner were merely the beginning of Pitt’s gridiron reign, as Dr. John “Jock” Sutherland would guide the Panthers to crowns in 1929, ‘31, ‘34, ‘36, and ‘37.
For fans born after World War II, the 1976 football crew remains the gold standard for excellence. Not only did the team post an undefeated season and capture a consensus national championship, but running back Tony Dorsett became the first Heisman winner in school history. A recipient of both the Maxwell and Walter Camp awards, “The Hawk” rushed for 2,150 yards and 23 touchdowns in his senior year and was selected second overall in the 1977 NFL Draft. After his playing career ended, Dorsett was inducted into both the College and Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994.
Since 1950, standout athletes from the university have been memorialized as a part of the Varsity Walk, a smattering of stones on a campus sidewalk that honors achievements both on the field and in the classroom. Overlooking the pathway is the Cathedral of Learning, which sports an upper level that lights up after momentous victories. In 2008, a new football tradition was born when “Sweet Caroline” became the soundtrack that marks the start of the fourth quarter. On November 1st of that year, the song became legendary in the hearts and minds of fans when the Pitt marching band played it during a spirited battle with Notre Dame in South Bend. After being outscored by the Fighting Irish all game long, the Panthers mounted a huge comeback during the final period of regulation and went on to win the game in overtime.
In recent years, the Panthers men’s basketball program has emerged as a national power in its own right, with numerous NCAA tournament appearances including five Sweet Sixteen showings from 2001 to 2010. Postseason success on both the hardwood and the gridiron has proven that Pitt is a formidable competitor. With the school joining the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2013, there’s now a brand-new batch of foes who will have to learn just how tough the Panthers can be.