"WHIZZER" WHITE SIGNS AUGUST 1st
Before the days of mobile phones, it would not have been easy for Art Rooney to conduct negotiations with Byron White, but eventually the owner achieved his objective.
On June 16 Mr. Rooney told reporters that White would give him the decision the following week. Despite the incentive of $15,000, Byron again came back with a negative response. He confirmed his focus was on his scholarship.
At the time, his elder brother was finishing his pre-medical degree in Oxford, and he came up with the answer to Byron’s dilemma. He discovered that students can enrol one term late which meant Byron could play a season of football before travelling to England.
Pittsburgh gridiron fans went to work on Monday morning, August 1st, to read that White would finally be playing for the Pirates grid iron team. The Pittsburgh Press reported the deal was done at 4 a.m. that morning when White contacted Mr. Rooney and Johnny Blood, the coach to say he would sign.
Mr. Rooney’s gamble had once again paid off. He had got his man although it would cost him over six times what he paid for his football franchise.
Coach Blood commented, “Whizzer told me he was very glad to have the opportunity to play with us. We had calculated on a champion team without him, and since we have him, it looks like we can’t miss.
The combination of Whizzer and Frank Filchok of Indiana, the best passer in the Big Ten last year, is going to give the 1937 combination of Battles and Baugh (of the champions Washington) something to shoot at.”
In the days when there were no televisions, Whizzer finally signed his Pirate contract on August 10th in front of a radio audience with the ceremony being broadcast on KDKA.
White confirmed that he had passed up the “handsome” offer Mr. Rooney made him until he was sure he could have both football and the education.
“I wrote the Oxford authorities for permission to defer the scholarship for three months, explaining everything in detail, and they were kind enough to do so. Now I can play pro ball for one year and then go to school. The scholarship is for two years, and if I am up to snuff in my studies, it will be extended for another year.”
White was expected to report to the Pirates training camp at St. Francis College, Loretto on August 10, three days after his teammates were due in.
WHITE ARRIVES IN CAMP
The local fans were eager to see the new star and were provided with the opportunity when the rookies and veterans played a scrimmage in public that resulted in a 7-7 tie.
Whizzer electrified the spectators with his long runs, bullet passes and outstanding receptions. Playing for the rookies, Whizzer showed any doubters that he was going to be worth the big bucks.
The Pittsburgh Press described White as physically not the biggest man playing football, but suggested he was one of the smartest and fastest. He arrived in camp at 185 pounds and was expected to play at around 190.
After a week of training camp, Art Rooney arrived to watch White for the first time and expressed himself perfectly satisfied with his investment in the star
On August 17th, White sparked a rookie team to a decisive 21-0 over the veterans in the first exhibition game of the new season. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported it as just another ball game until the All-American entered the fray.
His first two 25-yard passes were both dropped, but White showed his versatility by carrying the ball in for the first touchdown. An outstanding 51-yard pass followed increasing their lead to 14-0 lead before a Louis Lassahn interception completed the scoring.
Two nights later, under lights, 3,500 fans jammed the school field in Monessen High to see the veterans gain revenge with a 14-12 victory.
Most of the crowd were there to see the latest Pittsburgh sports personality and they were not disappointed as White put together another sterling effort in an attempt to give the rookies the win after they fell behind.
The difference in the teams was the solid boot of the veteran kickers as they made both point afters to earn the win.
The next day, White sparked the rookies to their second victory over the veterans.
Armand Niccolai opened the scoring for the veterans when he returned a fumble 20 yards in the opening quarter for a touchdown. The rookie who fumbled, Tuffy Thompson, then redeemed himself with a 15-yard touchdown run before Bud Lee completed the scoring to make it 13-7 to the rookies.
Coach Blood appeared very happy with his rookie players, especially White, and gave them all a day off. Unfortunately for busy White, he had to catch a flight to Chicago to join his fellow collegiate players for the College All-Stars game.
As the college players prepared for their game against the champions Washington, White was obviously suffering from the effects of his hectic schedule
All the previous hype meant nothing during the first scrimmage as he fumbled an easy pass and lost 10 yards, had a punt go only 15 yards, his first pass was intercepted and he was sacked when attempting his second and he gave a touchdown after one of his kicks was blocked.
He did go some way towards redemption with a shovel pass to Hugh Wolfe for a 7-yard touchdown.
On August 27th, while White was in Chicago, another Pirates scrimmage played in Ambridge saw the rookies go down 13-26 to the veterans.
The annual College All-Stars game matched the current pro football champions against a team of star college players in Chicago with the proceeds given to local charities.
White played for the All-Stars against the Washington Redskins who were led by their pro star Sammy Baugh. The game was played on August 31st, with the plaudits going to Purdue’s Cecil Isbell, who inspired the All-Stars to a 28-16 victory before 74,250 fans.
Isbell, drafted by Green Bay, shone enough to keep Byron White on the sideline for three quarters of the game. White’s contribution was an interception although he also gave up one.
The next day saw the third of the four All-Stars games played in Brown Stadium, Providence, Rhode Island. The Chicago Bears won 26-14, but after the Bears led 26-0 at the half, Byron White kept the score line respectable with two fourth quarter touchdowns.
Art Rooney and Johnny Blood were there to watch White and Frank Filchok, a QB from Indiana University, who they had drafted but had not yet given a contract. On his return to Pittsburgh, Mr. Rooney announced that Filchok had signed a contract and so had Joe Kuharich, a guard out of Notre Dame.
White had no chance to recover on his return from his All-Stars excursions. The Pirates played a charity game against the St. Rosalia Preps at Graham Field, Wilkinsburg on September 4th.
The Preps were a sandlot team coached by Bucky O’Neil, one time Georgetown star and were made up from scholastic stars from the area, including Duquesne and Pitt.
As was expected, the Pirates overwhelmed the Preps 54-0, with White scoring twice.
The next day, the Pirates ended their preseason by playing another charity game in Jeannette against the Modern A.C. All-Stars. It was a final opportunity for some players to impress owner and coach as the process of pruning the roster began.
After their 45-0 victory, the squad was cut to 31.
The Pirates roster announced on September 4th:
Ends: Manske, McDonough, Davidson, Lassahn, Cara and Sortet.
Tackles: Cardwell, Robinson, Niccolai, Karp, Doyle and Nausich
Guards: Gentry, Perko, Mayhew, Kakasic and (coach) Kiesling
Centers: Basrak and Maras
Quarterbacks: Weinstock, Wilson and (coach) Blood
Left halfbacks: Hanson, Thompson and White
Right halfbacks: Fiske, Tommerson and Filchock
Fullbacks: Karcis, Smith and Farrell
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