It was very appropriate.
Pitt's stirring victory over Notre Dame in the final game ever played at Pitt Stadium had ended about 20 minutes ago. People it seemed were everywhere. In the stands. On the field. On the goal posts. When things finally came to order, an elegant figure was escorted to the center of the field with a wooden box.
It was all-time great running back MARSHALL GOLDBERG, who was charged with the responsibility of "capturing the spirit" of Pitt Stadium. With the 60,000 people in attendance cheering madly, Goldberg slowly closed the lid of the box and then left in a Brinks truck.
That took place on Nov. 13, 1999. The box has since been stored in Pitt's Hall of Fame at its practice complex. (Goldberg returned to Pittsburgh on Sept. 27, 2001, to let the spirit loose in Heinz Field prior to the Panthers' game with Miami.)
The postgame ceremony provided an unforgettable image from a truly unforgettable night.
That Goldberg was selected for this duty was totally appropriate. After all, he is a founding father of the Pitt football tradition, playing on some of the greatest teams in college football history.
Goldberg starred at Pitt from 1936-38 and was its most prominent and publicized running back until Tony Dorsett arrived in the mid-1970s. He was a two-time All-American and eventually would go on to receive induction in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Playing under legendary coach Jock Sutherland, Goldberg helped Pitt to a three-year record of 25-3-2 and national championships in 1936 and 1937.
During his teenage years, Goldberg was small in football terms -- or any terms for that matter. He weighed just 110 pounds as a high school sophomore and was ironically dubbed "Biggie" by his friends.
But at Pitt he would become a strong and durable back who not only thrived as a runner, but as a passer, blocker and quick-kicker as well.
Sutherland commented on Goldberg's resilient running style by saying, "He has been knocked out only once...and he ran to a touchdown on the next play."
In his very first collegiate game, Goldberg stormed through Ohio Wesleyan for 203 yards in a 53-0 victory in 1936.
Pitt went 8-1-1 that season as Goldberg carried for 886 yards. He was also the Panthers' leader in passing that season as well as in 1937.
Goldberg gained a well-earned reputation as a big-play threat. In the 1937 opener against Ohio Wesleyan, a 59-0 victory, Goldberg intercepted a pass and ran 55 yards for a touchdown before the Pitt offense got on the field. He ended up leading the team in interceptions as Pitt went on to surrender just 34 total points and shut out six of its 10 opponents.
In a 20-0 win over West Virginia the next week, he returned the opening kickoff back 78 yards. The first time he touched the ball in a 6-0 win over Duquesne, he ran 77 yards for a touchdown. He finished the season with 698 rushing yards as Pitt won its second consecutive national title, going 9-0-1.
Goldberg's name is synonymous with the greatest backfield in Pitt football history -- the "Dream Backfield." The heralded group came together due in large part to Goldberg's unselfishness.
In 1938, Sutherland was in a situation where he had an embarrassment of backfield riches. Looking to maximize the breadth of his talent at the four backfield spots, Sutherland asked Goldberg to relinquish his starting left halfback post to the talented Dick Cassiano and move to fullback. Goldberg readily agreed.
With John Chickerneo operating as the No. 1 quarterback, and Curly Stebbins entrenched at right halfback, what became known as the Panthers' Dream Backfield was in place.
The group earned national acclaim, not only as the best backfield in the country that year but also as one of the best to ever play the game. Fordham head coach Jimmy Crowley, one of Notre Dame's legendary Four Horsemen, said the Dream Backfield was even superior to his Irish corps.
Goldberg finished his career as Pitt's all-time leading rusher with 1,957 yards, a mark that stood until Dorsett broke it during the 1974 season.
Goldberg played professional football for the Chicago Cardinals in 1939-42 and in 1946-48. He was named All-Pro six times during a career that was interrupted while he served as a Navy Seal in World War II. His interception against the Philadelphia Eagles clinched the Cardinals' only NFL championship (in 1947). The Cardinals retired his No. 99.
Goldberg's number 42 was retired by the University of Pittsburgh at halftime of the Pitt-Miami game in 1997, nearly 60 years after his final collegiate season.
Goldberg passed away in 2006, at the age of 88, in Chicago, where he made his home.
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