By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD | News & Journal Editor
If you are a Mountaineer fan who bleeds blue and gold and likes to stay abreast of WVU sports news, you may – or may not – be familiar with the Blue & Gold News, a print publication (also available online) that strictly features photos and stories covering WVU football and basketball sports news.
Thirty issues are published throughout these two seasons, offering everything from recruiting news to schedules, scores, game stats, standings, players of the week, and player features.
A recent issue presented a two-page spread titled “WVU’s Top 10 Football Transfers”, which featured the lead transfers dating back through Mountaineer history. While most of the top ten list was comprised of players from the 1980’s, 90’s and into the 21st century, One player, who ranked as #2 among the top ten transfers was the late Joe Stydahar of Shinnston.
Although he was born in Pennsylvania, the Stydahar family moved to Shinnston when Joe was eight years old, and it became his ‘home’.
Calling Stydahar a “transfer” may be, however, a “stretch”! He enrolled at Pitt and attended just one week of pre-season training before he decided not to return; he became a Mountaineer instead. Joe was a lineman at WVU in 1933, ’34 and ’35, and was also a three-year letterman on the WVU basketball team.
Stydahar was the Chicago Bears’ #1 pick in the first ever NFL draft in 1936. “Jumbo Joe”, as he was called, was an imposing figure at 6’4”, weighing 233 pounds. He played tackle for the Bears from 1936 to 1942 before his professional football career was interrupted to serve three years in the Navy during World War II. He did, however, return to play two more seasons with the Bears following the war.
Known for his overpowering strength and remarkable speed, Stydahar had no reservations about wearing the number 13, and exhibited his fearlessness by often playing without protective headgear, which at the time was not mandatory. Helmets did not become a requirement in professional football until the early 1940s.
Stydahar was multiple times and NFL All-Star and All-Pro and helped take the Bears to three NFL championships. Following his playing career, Joe stepped into coaching –first with the Los Angeles Rams, where he guided them to two consecutive NFL title game appearances – including the 1951 NFL Championship. This success was followed by two years as coach of the Chicago Cardinals.
Joe was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame I 1967 and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1972. Stydahar and Sam Huff are the only former Mountaineers to become members of both the Pro Football and College Football Halls of Fame. Joe was also elected into the WVU Sports Hall of Fame in 1991.
Joe Stydahar has always been revered by the citizens of Shinnston; he was highly respected and admired for his distinguished career in football. He was the first inductee into the Shinnston High School Hall of Fame in the early 1990’s, and the field on which Shinnston’s Lincoln Cougars now play is named Stydahar Field in Joe’s honor.
Just four years before his passing, Stydahar returned to Shinnston to speak to the Shinnston High School Class of 1973 during their graduation exercises. He died in Beckley in 1977 and is buried in the Shinnston Memorial Cemetery.
In case you are wondering who bested Stydahar for the #1 transfer spot, it was Jeff Hostetler, who left Penn State to play the quarterback position for WVU. Following his collegiate years, his professional football career included playing for the New York Giants, the Los Angeles Raiders and the Washington Redskins. Twice, he was a Super Bowl Champion – (XXI) when the Giants won over the Broncos and (XXV) when the Giants defeated the Bills.