July 19, 2024

Pittsburgh legend Bobby Grier, first Black player to participate in Sugar Bowl, dies at 91


Pittsburgh legend Bobby Grier, the first Black player to participate in the Sugar Bowl, has died, the university announced. Grier, who played fullback, linebacker and defensive back for the Panthers, was 91. 

Grier earned his first letter with Pittsburgh in 1953 and became a stalwart on the defense over the next few seasons. As a senior, he led the team in interceptions while helping guide the Panthers to a 7-3 record and an appearance in the 1956 Sugar Bowl against Georgia Tech

Then-Georgia governor Marvin Griffin sent a letter to the Georgia Board of Regents in December of 1955 requesting that schools from Georgia refrain from participating in racially integrated sporting events. Grier received loud vocal support from his teammates and coaches, and from players and students at Georgia Tech. 

Georgia Tech president Blake Ragsdale Van Leer went so far as to reject Griffin’s proposal and pledged his own support for Grier. Grier played in the Jan. 2, 1956 game against Georgia Tech and led both teams with 51 yards rushing. 

He also participated in the Sugar Bowl Banquet, at the insistence of Georgia Tech players, though it was held at a hotel that only served white patrons. 

“I had only been at Pitt a few weeks when I first met Bobby Grier,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said in a statement. “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 was inducted into the Sugar Bowl Hall of Fame in 2019. He is also a member of the Pitt Athletics Hall of Fame.