The 1918 Pittsburgh Panthers football team represented the University of Pittsburgh in the 1918 college football season. In a season cut short by the Spanish flu pandemic, coach Pop Warner led the Panthers in a schedule played all in one month, including a convincing victory in a highly publicized game over defending national champion and unscored-upon Georgia Tech. A highly controversial loss ended the season and snapped a 32-game Pitt winning streak, but the Panthers outscored opponents 140–16 in that short season and were retroactively selected as the national champion by the Helms Athletic Foundation and Houlgate System and as a co-national champion with Michigan by the National Championship Foundation.
The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 saw the implementation of quarantines that eliminated much of that year's college football season, including five of Pitt's originally scheduled contests. All of Pitt's games that year were played in November, including a high profile game played as a War Charities benefit against undefeated, unscored upon, and defending national champion Georgia Tech, coached by John Heisman.
Pitt swept through its first two games and then dismantled Georgia Tech 32–0 in front of many of the nation's top sports writers including Walter Camp, ending Tech's 33-game streak without a loss.
Warner historian Francis Powers wrote:
At Forbes Field, the dressing rooms of the two teams were separated only by a thin wall. As the Panthers were sitting around, awaiting Warner's pre-game talk, Heisman began to orate in the adjoining room. In his charge to the Tech squad, Heisman became flowery and fiery. He brought the heroes of ancient Greece and the soldier dead in his armor among the ruins of Pompeii. It was terrific and the Panthers sat, spellbound. When Heisman had finished, Warner chortled and quietly said to his players: 'Okay, boys. There's the speech. Now go out and knock them off.'
Pitt's first score came on a pass from Tom Davies to Katy Easterday. The next score came soon after the start of the second quarter, when Davies retutrned a punt back 50 yards for a touchdown. A double pass got the next score. The fourth touchdown was a 6-yard toucchdown by George McLaren. "Guyon and Flowers were very clever at intercepting forward passes, which in a measure made up for the fumbling in an early part of the game." A 55-yard touchdown run by Davies was the final score. Guyon also starred on defense.
The starting lineup was McCarter (left end), Hilty (left tackle), Stahl (left guard), Stein (center), V. Allshouse (right guard), Mervis (right tackle), Hurrington (right end), Gougler (quarterback), Easterday (left halfback), Davies (right halfback), McLaren (fullback).
Cleveland Naval Reserves
The final game of the season at Cleveland Naval Reserve resulted in "Pop" Warner's first loss at Pitt and is one of the most controversial in school history. Warner, along with some reporters covering the game, insisted Pitt was robbed by the officials who, claiming the official timekeeper's watch was broken, arbitrarily ended the first half before Pitt was able to score and then allowed the Reserves extra time in the fourth quarter to pull ahead 10–9 before calling an end to the game.
Judy Harlan, formerly of Georgia Tech, and Moon Ducote, formerly of Auburn starred for the Cleveland Naval Reserves. Ducote kicked the winning field goal. Warner declared him "the greatest football player I ever saw". Harlan stated: "I intercepted a pass and returned it to midfield in the fourth quarter. I felt I at least had evened up some of the losses we had at Tech."
Despite the loss, the 4–1 Panthers of 1918 were named as a national champion for that season by multiple selectors, several of which are considered to be "major" selections by the official NCAA records book.
The 1918 team was selected or recognized as national champions by multiple selectors, several of which are listed as "major" (i.e. national in scope) by the official NCAA football records book. College Football Data Warehouse also recognizes Pitt as a national champion in 1918, as did a 1970 Sports Illustrated study that has served as the historical basis of the university's historical national championship claims since its original publication.
The are the selectors that determined Pitt to be national champions in 1918.
* A "major" selector that was "national scope" according to the official NCAA football records book.Tom Davies, halfback (1st team Walter Camp; Frank Menke Syndicate, by Frank G. Menke; 1st team Robert "Tiny" Maxwell, of the Philadelphia Public Ledger)
Leonard Hilty, tackle (1st team Walter Camp; 2nd team Tiny Maxwell)
George McLaren, fullback (2nd team Walter Camp [hb]; Menke Syndicate; 1st team Tiny Maxwell)
Katy Easterday, halfback (1st team Tiny Maxwell)
Skip Gougler, halfback (2nd team Tiny Maxwell)
William E. Harrington, end (2nd team Tiny Maxwell)
Jake Stahl, guard (2nd team Walter Camp; 2nd team Tiny Maxwell)
*Bold - Consensus All-American