BALTIMORE—During the second week of January 2019, Joe Willie Namath of Beaver Falls High School was acknowledged by several national sports talking heads for becoming the first WPIAL athlete to win a Super Bowl for an NFL team.
Specifically, on Jan. 12, 1969, Namath predicted his New York Jets would overtake the then heavily-favored Baltimore Colts, while winning Super Bowl III in Miami’s Orange Bowl Stadium by a score of 21–16.
In light of his famed prognostication, Namath became a national sensation and to this day, remains one of the NFL’s most prominent personalities. Notably, 50 years since Namath shined lights on athletic prowess of Western Pa. football talents, Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta (Feb. 3) again displayed the skills of Pittsburgh-area stars.
Rob Gronkowski, the Woodland Hills High School product, is a perennial All-Pro tight end with the New England Patriots, while on the opposite side of the scrimmage line, Aaron Donald, a standout defensive lineman with the Los Angeles Rams, hails from Penn Hills High School and was a collegiate star at Pitt, both joining the likes of past homegrown Super Bowl participants like Joe Montana, Mike Ditka, Anthony “Hawk” Dorsett, Ty Law and Darrelle Revis – the latter four all hailing from Aliquippa, though Dorsett played at neighboring Hopewell High School.
Alex “AJ” Johnson, a former North Braddock-Scott High School basketball prep star, who played in the 1971 Dapper Dan Roundball Classic, described Western Pa.’s penchant for developing successful gridiron stars.
“The talent is there, but more importantly, there’s a unique approach among Western Pa. athletes, and it starts as early as the youth leagues—Pop Warner leagues.
“There’s a real competitive spirit that propels youngsters onto a higher level,” added Johnson. “Our public school system is still solid, too—so kids aren’t necessarily forced into private schools to receive good education to learn good sports fundamentals.”
Johnson recalled Donald as a tike whenever his father, Archie “Boomer” Donald, would bring his toddler son to local sports events.
“I followed his career because I knew of his father. He’s had a brilliant career and has represented our city very well,” said Johnson. “We’re very proud of him.”
In celebration of WPIAL success in the NFL since the days when Namath’s Tigers won the 1961 WPIAL Class A title, the New Pittsburgh Courier recognizes current players from the Greater Pittsburgh region and the WPIAL, who played on NFL rosters during the 2018 season.
In addition to those players, Chicago Bears head coach, Matt Nagy, is another Pennsylvania native who enjoyed a successful season at the helm of the title-contending Bears, whose current season was abruptly cut short after the infamous “doink” field-goal miss by Cody Parkey.
Nagy graduated from Manheim High School in Lancaster County.
The list of players from the Pittsburgh area is as follows:
•Allan Quay “AQ” Shipley (Arizona Cardinals), Moon High School
•Aaron Donald (Los Angeles Rams), Penn Hills High School
•Barry Church (Jacksonville Jaguars), Penn Hills High School
•Branden Jackson, (Seattle Seahawks) – McKeesport High School
•Brandon Fusco (Atlanta Falcons), Seneca Valley High School
•Demetrious Cox (Carolina Panthers), Jeannette High School
•Ejuan Price (Los Angeles Rams), Woodland Hills High School
•James Conner (Pittsburgh Steelers), Erie McDowell High School
•Jesse James (Pittsburgh Steelers), South Allegheny High School
•John Wetzel (Arizona Cardinals) Brashear High School
•Jordan Whitehead (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Central Valley High School
•Lafayette Pitts (Jacksonville Jaguars), Woodland Hills High School
•Malik Hooker (Indianapolis Colts), New Castle High School
•Matt Nagy, Head coach Chicago Bears), Manheim High School
•Mike Hull (Miami Dolphins), Cannon-McMillan High School
•Montae Nicholson (Washington Redskins), Gateway High School
•Nick Kwiatkoski (Chicago Bears), Bethel Park High School
•Paul Posluszny (Jacksonville Jaguars), Hopewell High School
•Quinton Jefferson (Seattle Seahawks), Woodland Hills
•Robert Foster, Buffalo Bills, Central Valley High School
•Rob Gronkowski (New England Patriots), Woodland Hill High School
•Rontez Miles (New York Jets), Woodland Hills High School
•Sean Lee (Dallas Cowboys), Upper St. Clair High School
•Stefen Wisniewski (Philadelphia Eagles), Central Catholic High School
•Terrelle Pryor (Washington Redskins), Jeannette High School
•Tommy Campbell, (CFL’s Montreal Alouettes), Aliquippa High School
•Treyvon Hester (Oakland Raiders), Penn Hills High School
(Stratton Nash and Barry Cox contributed to this story.)
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