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Bill Hillgrove: A Pitt Icon for Nearly Four Decades

Bill Hillgrove (right) with Bill Fralic

Bill Hillgrove (right) with Bill Fralic

"...the 25, the 20, the 15, the 10. Dorsett on his feet into the end zone! He goes in for a 32-yard touchdown run and the Panther bench is down there! Everybody has run into the end zone risking a penalty but they're going to congratulate Tony Dorsett. Even the Navy cannon has gone off! Tony Dorsett has become the all-time leading rusher in the history of college football!"
                         
Those words, while more than 30 years old, still give Pitt fans goose bumps.
 
The description, of course, was of the incomparable Tony Dorsett and his record-breaking run at Navy during the 1976 national championship season when he became the NCAA's all-time leading rusher.
 
The radio call of the famous play was made by an equally incomparable talent, Bill Hillgrove. He still considers Dorsett's historic run his most cherished moment in a four-decade broadcasting career.
 
Dorsett won the Heisman Trophy at the conclusion of that marvelous 1976 season. Now, 31 years later, Hillgrove will be honored with the Heisman equivalent for college football broadcasting.
 
On May 16 the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame announced that Hillgrove will be this year's recipient of the prestigious Chris Schenkel Award, which honors a sports broadcaster who has enjoyed a long and distinguished career broadcasting college football at a single institution. The award is named after its first recipient and a pioneering sports broadcaster, Chris Schenkel.
 
"I got emotional when I found out," said Hillgrove. "It means a lot to me. I got to know Chris Schenkel. He was a humble guy. He didn't have any airs about him and, of course, he was one of the giants of our business."
 
"Bill Hillgrove is a broadcasting icon and true Pittsburgh treasure," Pitt athletic director Jeff Long said. "For more than four decades Pitt fans have enjoyed one of the very best play-by-play announcers in the college athletics. We are tremendously proud of our 'Voice of the Panthers' and his well deserved honor."
 
Hillgrove will be honored this Dec. 4 at the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame's 50th annual banquet at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City.
 
A noted jazz aficionado, New York is one of Hillgrove's favorite towns. He and Pitt basketball broadcasting partner Dick Groat receive rock star treatment in various Manhattan music clubs and at Madison Square Garden each year for the Big East Tournament.
 
While he loves the Big Apple, make no mistake. Hillgrove is quintessentially Pittsburgh.
 
Born and raised in Western Pennsylvania, he is a graduate of Pittsburgh's Central Catholic High School and Duquesne University. He also attended the U.S. Army Information School before serving as a disc jockey and staff announcer for various radio stations in his hometown during the 1960s and 70s.

His Pitt association began in 1969, when he was hired as the Panthers' basketball's play-by-play announcer. A year later, Pitt named Hillgrove color analyst for football, teaming him with the late Ed Conway.

Hillgrove took over the play-by-play seat for football in 1974 when Conway passed away. It was then that a broadcasting combination that many of today's Pitt fans grew up with  - Hillgrove and longtime color analyst Johnny Sauer - came to be.

The pair worked the better part of two decades together, describing the exploits of such Pitt greats as Dorsett, Dan Marino, Hugh Green, Mark May and Bill Fralic among many others. May succeeded Sauer in the broadcast booth during the mid-1990s, while Fralic has worked alongside Hillgrove since 2004.

In 1994, Hillgrove was handpicked by Pittsburgh Steelers' owner Dan Rooney to replace the retiring Jack Fleming as the team's new play-by-play announcer. Fleming, incidentally, was the 1999 recipient of the Schenkel Award for his work with West Virginia.

In his 37 years with Pitt football, Hillgrove incredibly has missed broadcasting just a single contest.  A conflict with the Steelers caused him to miss the Panthers' 1999 season opener with Bowling Green.

During Hillgrove's long career he has also served as sports director for WTAE- TV and continues as the channel's "Steelers Insider." He has received numerous awards during his prolific career and is also an honorary University of Pittsburgh letterman.