Football has always been a big part of Pittsburgh’s sports history. Youth football in Pittsburgh also has a very colorful history and the Northside as a whole led the way in terms of having teams.
Back in the 1960s and 70s there were many youth football teams on the Northside, particularly in the Northside’s Catholic community. Youth football programs flourished at such churches as Annunciation, Nativity, St. Leo, Most Holy Name, St. Francis, St. Peters, St. Boniface and St. Cyril.
Many of these teams would have their grand finale of the football season by playing their version of a Super bowl or “Golden Bowl” which was the last and biggest game of the season. This was usually against another team that was nearby, which made the rivalry even more intense.
Some games were even played at large venues such as high school stadiums or fields, or even Three Rivers Stadium. In the mid 1970s Annunciation played St. Cyril at Three Rivers Stadium for what was billed as the Northside “Supermini Bowl.” I remember tickets were two dollars. The crowds at these games were very large and the play on the field was very spirited. The winner of the game had bragging rights for one year, which meant everything at that time.
I also remember playing halfback for Annunciation and getting tackled on the Three Rivers Stadium turf, and getting “turf burns” on my knees and elbows. The turf back then in the late fall was like getting tackled on green concrete. After playing there I had a newfound respect for the Steelers players.
Youth football on the Northside at this time was in its zenith. However, the winds of change began to blow and the population shifted. Enrollment dipped in neighborhood Catholic schools and they began to close. We are down to one school on the Northside that still has a Golden Bowl and that is St. Cyril in Brighton Heights.
This past October, St, Cyril played St. Theresa in their annual Golden Bowl at Beautiful Martorelli Stadium, the home of North Hills Indians. Although the crowd numbers are not the same, the game is played with the same intensity as it was back in the 1960s and 70s. It is a tradition that still brings neighborhoods, families and players together, at least for one day.
The half time shows with the cheerleaders are still well scripted. They still make the halftime worthwhile seeing and exhibit much energy and spirit. The field still gets extra decorations with personal posters and attention. They still give out big trophies and MVPs to the winners. The spirit of the Northside and the glorious days gone by of many huge youth football games and programs are still there. The Northside pride is still there. You can still feel in the autumn air.
Paul Ungerman is a resident of the Northside. He played and coached at Annunciation and St. Cyril’s football programs. He went on to excel in football for Perry High School and Clarion University.