Bobby Grier, Pitt legend, dies at 91

Bobby Grier, a Pitt Athletics Hall of Famer who was the first Black player to play in the Sugar Bowl, died on June 30. He was 91.

The university confirmed Grier’s death on Sunday.

In a 2023 interview, Grier said he wasn’t thinking about breaking a color barrier when he played in the 1956 Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2, his 23rd birthday.

“I didn’t think anything of it,” Grier said.

Pitt’s Sugar Bowl opponent was Georgia Tech, and then-Georgia governor Marvin Griffin tried to keep Grier from playing in the game at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans during a time of racial segregation. But Grier’s teammates refused to travel without him and Georgia Tech also supported him.

“They said we’re not going down without him. No Grier, no game,” Grier said.

Though he wasn’t allowed to stay in the team hotel, Grier would not be denied.

“I’m very proud of what I did,” he said.

Grier, a fullback, linebacker and defensive back, was inducted into the Pitt Athletics Hall of Fame in 2020. He was inducted into the Sugar Bowl Hall of Fame two years prior.

“Bobby Grier is the epitome of the Pitt student-athlete,” chancellor Joan Gabel said in a statement. “Striving to compete alongside his teammates at the highest level possible, he played with courage, grace and conviction, and he helped drive the national conversation toward justice at a pivotal time in American history.

“The University of Pittsburgh is enormously proud to call Bobby an alum. We express our deepest condolences to his family and friends at the loss of a great man.”

Pitt’s football team will wear a commemorative helmet sticker for the 2024 season to honor Grier.

“Bobby Grier lived a truly remarkable and impactful life that inspires in so many ways,” Pitt director of athletics Heather Lyke said in a statement. “The courage and dignity he showed in desegregating the Sugar Bowl stands as one of the most important moments not only in the history of the University of Pittsburgh but also the game of college football.”

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