The 1986 W.P.I.A.L. AAAA Championship football team could simply represent the ultimate definition of Gateway football. Most football alumni agree that no two Gateway teams were alike, however, the attitude and tradition always remained the same. There is no need for comparisons to the other four Gateway championship football teams, yet the 1986 team accomplished more than any of the previous four champions. They were the first AAAA team in the W.P.I.A.L. to win thirteen games in one season. It is about who they beat and how they went about beating them. The players left Three Rivers Stadium in the fall of 1985 with a co championship with North Hills. Everyone remembers that 0-0 tie. That tie left a void with the returning lettem1en. This author will try not to discuss any particular individuals on the 1986 team because it was the team that defined these individuals. The team finished the regular season with 10 Wins 0 Losses. They outscored their opponents 285 to 49 in those 10 games. In playoff game number one they defeated Bethel Park 35 to 8. In playoff game number two they defeated Mt. Lebanon 30 to 6. That set up the rematch with North Hills at Three Rivers Stadium.
At the time of the championship game, North Hills was ranked number one in the nation in the USA Today poll. Of course, they were also ranked number one in the state of Pennsylvania. The 1986 North Hills squad has been considered by many to have been the best North Hills team of all time. Guess what! They couldn’t beat Gateway. Gateway drove them crazy for two years in a row. What a void it must be, even today, that those boys fron1 North Hills cannot call themselves champions. My friends, that is what Gateway football is all about. Gateway 7 North Hills 6. The 1986 Gateway Gator football champions wrote their own history that day and yes, they ended up the number one team in the state of Pennsylvania and ranked number three in the final USA Today poll.
What are the intangible elements that enabled Gateway football to overcome such challenges? What made Gateway football so special?
It had to do with respect – respect yourself and your opponent, and gain the respect of your opponent. It had to do with attitude – nobody works harder than Gateway, we will not be denied, hit somebody, where is your heart. It had to do with tradition – started in the 1960’s and carried to the 1980’s, every player adapted to the winning atmosphere. It had to do with togetherness – no individuals, one team.
The 1986 team followed those intangibles explicitly. The defensive unit decided that they would not break, period. It did not. The offense did what needed to be done, period. It did. We are so proud of what this team accomplished. As an alumni that played on a championship team many years before the 1986 championship, I was present at Three Rivers that November day in 1986. The emotion that I felt that day cannot be described. You had to play Gateway Gator football to understand the common bond that we all have with one another regardless of when we played. The 1986 players will attest to this.
As discussed over and over again, coaching was always the key to the football program at Gateway. Football is a very emotional game, especially at the high school level. Coach Antimarino and his entire coaching staff always knew how to handle young athletes emotions in addition to understanding the X’s and O’s of football. Back in the 1960’s, it was this group of coaches that designed the blue prints for what was always called good old Gateway football. In addition to Coach Pete Antimarino, the 1986 coaching staff included: Coach Steve Klipa, Coach Russ Gratton, Coach Steve Statnick, Coach Dan Baughman and Coach Rich Volpatti. Coach Art Betts was not officially on the coaching staff, however, his systems, theories and techniques remained in place. Football alumni have nothing but the utmost respect for each and every one of these coaches. These are the men that taught about the intangibles that made Gateway football something special. Coaches Antimarino, Klipa, Betts and Statnick are now retired and living locally.
Coach Antimarino and Coach Betts are individual members of the Gateway Sports Hall of Fame. Coach Gratton, Coach Baughman and Coach Volpatti continue to teach at Gateway and Coaches Gratton and Baughman continue to coach young people at the high school level.
Even though we are recognizing the 1986 team as a team induction, there were plenty of superior individual efforts on that team. Like many of Gateway’s successful years, the coaches ran the two platoon system. This system resulted in many different players becoming involved in the game on offense, defense and special teams. Interviewing fom1er coaches and players about the individuals that made up the team, their opinion seems to be the same. Different players that weren’t expected to make big plays, made big plays. Those are the players that allowed Curtis Bray, Terry Smith, Dale Banks, Al Lardo, Mike Livorio and Todd Washington to become better than average players and some, possibly future individual hall of fame members. Of course, Curtis was inducted last year.
When North Hills lined up for the two point conversion immediately after making the score 7-6, I watched from the stands as a visually nervous Coach Antimarino went to one knee, along with his son Pete. Gilbert “Gibby” Gigliotti tipped the pass that was then intercepted by Todd Washington and the celebration began. Where is Gibby Gigliotti today? He stepped up and made the one big play that possibly brings the 1986
W.P.I.A.L. AAAA Football Champions to the Gateway Sports Hall of Fame in the Year 2000. It’s been nearly fifteen years since the 1986 Gators won the football title, Gateway’s last. Those Gator football memories last a lifetime.
Below is a recap of the thirteen wins during the 1986 season. The Gators rolled through the regular season. Note, as always, Central Catholic tried to be our nemesis. The Gators blew out two playoff opponents and the North Hills game made history.
1986 Gateway Football Record 13 – 0
W.P.I.A.L. Playoff Games*
W.P.I.A.L. Championship** @ Three Rivers Stadium
1986 Co-Captains Terry Smith, Dale Banks, Jerry Samek, Tom Keller