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Pitt, College Athletics Trailblazer Bobby Grier Dies at 91

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Pitt icon Bobby Grier

College athletics lost an icon when former Pitt running back and linebacker Bobby Grier died on June 30 at 91. Stephen Thompson of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette first reported the news.

Grier, who played at Pitt from 1952-55 as a varsity running back and linebacker, broke the color barrier by becoming the first Black player to play in the Sugar Bowl, in the face of heavy opposition from then-Georgia governor Marvin Griffin. Grier took the field for Pitt in the 1956 Sugar Bowl, breaking the barrier in an incredibly impactful moment in racial desegregation in college athletics in the 1950s.

Georgia Tech would go on to win the game 7-0, but Grier’s 51 yards were a game-high, and more importantly, he helped pave the way for the integration of future Black student-athletes in college football and major Bowl games.

“I had only been at Pitt a few weeks when I first met Bobby Grier,” Pat Narduzzi said in the Pitt release. “He was visiting our practice facility and I remember leaving a meeting so I could see him in person and shake his hand. Bobby is an absolute Pitt icon, and I was immediately struck by his humbleness and warmth. His pride in being a Pitt Man was on his sleeve, and that was so inspiring to me. We are so proud to continually tell Bobby’s story to new generations of Pitt football players. He really represents the best of our program.”

Grier’s time in college football came before the prominence of the NFL and the ability to fund a family off an NFL contract. He eventually spent 12 years in the U.S. Air Force (after graduating from Pitt with a degree in Business Administration in 1957) and worked for US Steel and as an administrator for the Community College of Allegheny County. Grier was active in the Pittsburgh area and lived in the area with his children and grandchildren.

Grier began his athletic career at Masillion High School in Ohio before enrolling at Pitt, making his mark as a standout football player and the only Black player on the team. He was inducted into the Sugar Bowl Hall of Fame in 2019 and the Pitt Athletics Hall of Fame in 2020.

“Bobby Grier lived a truly remarkable and impactful life that inspires in so many ways,” Director of Athletics Heather Lyke said in the Pitt release. “The courage and dignity he showed in desegregating the Sugar Bowl stands as one of the most important moments not only in the history of the University of Pittsburgh but also the game of college football. One of my most gratifying moments was having the opportunity to take part in his enshrinement in the Pitt Athletics Hall of Fame in 2021. His legacy, on and off the field, will always burn brightly at Pitt. We extend our deepest condolences to the Grier family and Bobby’s many loved ones.”

Grier served the Elizabeth Dole Foundation to help provide caregiving for Veterans in his later years and his greatest source of pride was his loving family. He was a devoted husband to his late wife Dorothy and a loving father and grandfather to his children Rob Jr. and Cassandra and granddaughter Camille.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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