When my father started taking me and my brother to high school football games, there were rules to be followed.
We got to games early enough to watch warm-ups and be settled into our seats in time to watch the band perform the national anthem. And we weren’t allowed to leave our seats until after the bands performed their halftime shows. He loved music as much as football.
So, one of the most enjoyable parts of covering Pitt football and basketball for me over the years has been listening to and watching the joy with which Jack R. Anderson has directed the Pitt band.
Anderson, who is retiring as Pitt band director after 27 years, is an institution within an institution. Not only is he a popular professor among students but a long-time fixture on the sporting scene. He also has received the Distinguished Service to Music award, the highest honor presented by Kappa Kappa Psi. Robert “Ace” Arthur, Pitt’s band director from 1939-70, also was given the award, and Anderson believes no other college has two recipients.
This NCAA Tournament is Anderson’s last hurrah with the Pitt band at a sporting event.
Not only does Anderson have deep family roots in the Pitt band, but he met his wife, Peggy, when they were students. Peggy played the piccolo and flute, as did their oldest daughter, Carrie. Their youngest daughter, Katie, played the baritone. And there’s probably more Andersons in Pitt band’s future. Anderson has a miniature Pitt band drum set in his basement that his grandchildren are learning to play.
Anderson was essentially raised on the Pitt sidelines, whether it was football or basketball games.
“The old field house was all dirt,” Anderson said. “Did you know that? After basketball season, they could take the court up and the football team would practice there.”
One of Anderson’s earliest Pitt sporting memories was going to the 1956 Sugar Bowl by train with his grandparents – and the Pitt freshman football team, which included future Panthers head coach Foge Fazio.
“I grew up with sports,” Anderson said, “so I know sports.”
Anderson also knows the Panthers not only by their names but their numbers. On family road trips, Jack B. Anderson would sing the beginning of a school march and make his children identify it. Or he would name a Pitt player and make them recite his number.
To this day, Jack R. remembers that Bill Kaliden wore No. 19, Bob Rosborough No. 84 and Joe Walton No. 87, that Charles “Corky” Cost wore No. 20 and Don Hennon wore No. 21.
The Andersons also collected memorabilia long before it became fashionable. It started with his father and continues with Jack, who has old game-worn jerseys, warm-ups and helmets from every era dating to at least the 1950s before they could be tossed out.
In fact, Anderson presented Hennon with his white, short-sleeved game jersey at the last game at Fitzgerald Field House. He also presented Corky Cost his jersey on the day Pitt opened the Cost Center, where the Pitt band still practices sometimes.
“We never lose a practice because of rain or snow,” Anderson said, noting that because the Cost Center field is 100 yards long but not 53 yards wide, “we put duct tape down to make hash marks for guiding lines.”
And, even though I’m a Penn State grad, I can’t leave this out:
Anderson “took a beating” when he was ordered to remove the break strain in the Pitt Victory Song that allowed fans to chant “Penn State Sucks!” Angry alums accused him of going soft on the Nittany Lions.
If they only knew that Anderson celebrated Pitt’s 31-11 victory over Penn State in 1984 – a 3-7-1 season for the Panthers – by purchasing a Joe Paterno cardboard cutout that shared a seat at his dinner table at a prominent downtown State College restaurant.