MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Bernie Galiffa sometimes wonders what his record-setting 1972 season would have been like had he not stunk up the joint in West Virginia’s first two games of the year against Villanova and Richmond.
Galiffa completed just 14 of 42 passes for 179 yards and no touchdowns in those two games. He also threw four picks.
“Those first two, I thought, my goodness where is my head at? It was crazy.”
It got so bad that at halftime of the Richmond game, the Mountaineers, mired in a scoreless tie with the Spiders, were serenaded to a chorus of boos as they left Mountaineer Field for the locker room. Coach Bobby Bowden decided to stick to the ground in the second half, and he also decided to stick with his quarterback.
A week later, Galiffa snapped out of his two-game funk by completing 13 of 19 passes for 298 yards and four touchdowns in a 48-10 runaway victory at Virginia. He threw touchdown passes of 78, 23, 20 and 41 yards.
“The Virginia game turned everything around,” Galiffa recalled. “I threw four touchdowns and it just happened.”
What happened was one of the greatest offensive seasons in school history. The ’72 team ranked fourth in the country in scoring averaging 36.5 points per game, sixth in passing averaging 227.8 yards per game, and eighth in total offense averaging 411.9 yards per game.
Ex-Atlanta Falcons sack specialist Jeff Merrow, a sophomore defensive lineman on that ’72 team, said going up against Bowden’s offense every day in practice taught him how to rush the passer.
“You didn’t learn anything about rushing the quarterback until you went to professional football,” said Merrow. “The neat thing I always liked about West Virginia was watching our offense. Back in the early 1970s, nobody was throwing the football like Bobby Bowden.”
Galiffa was perfect for Bowden’s quarterback-centric system. Galiffa had a terrific arm and a willingness to remain in the pocket and absorb punishment waiting for West Virginia’s group of outstanding wide receivers to get open deep down field.
Galiffa had sophomores Danny Buggs and Marshall Mills on the outside, with tight end Nate Stephens working the middle of the field. Bernie Kirchner, Snake Blake and Dave Jagdmann were their backups.
“They made me look good,” Galiffa said. “They played well and we threw the ball. We put it up and you can’t waste those guys because they had so much talent.”
Galiffa’s best game of his career came during an nine-point loss to Penn State in Morgantown in 1972 when he threw for a career-high 341 yards and two touchdowns. That game was televised regionally by ABC.
“Kerry Marbury returns the opening kickoff for a touchdown and I’m thinking that this game is going to be alright,” Galiffa said. “Then the first two passes I threw went for interceptions.”
West Virginia was still in the game when Penn State was awarded a controversial touchdown when fullback Bob Nagle clearly fumbled before the goal line and the football was recovered by West Virginia at its two. After a conference, the officials awarded the TD to the Nittany Lions, saying Nagle had crossed the goal line.
“He didn’t even get close to the end zone,” Galiffa said.
Penn State built a 25-6 lead before the Mountaineers managed to score a pair of second half touchdowns to make the final score a much more respectable 28-19. It was Penn State’s 14th consecutive victory over West Virginia dating back to a 14-14 tie in 1958.
“It was unreal that they had that type of mystique over us,” said Galiffa. “It was crazy. It didn’t matter how much preparation we had – we were always well prepared – but there was always something that was going to happen. It was Murphy’s Law.”
Galiffa had better success against rival Pitt, a school that barely showed any interested in him after his senior season at nearby Donora (Pa.) High School in 1968.
“(Pitt assistant coach) Bimbo Cecconi only came by once or twice and that’s why I always had extra incentive to throw the ball a little bit harder and a little bit further to beat those guys,” said Galiffa.
Bernie was 2-0 against Pitt, leading West Virginia to a 20-9 win over the Panthers in 1971 and throwing for 304 yards and a pair of touchdowns in WVU’s 38-20 romp in Pittsburgh a year later.
That was West Virginia’s first return to the Steel City since the Mountaineers’ infamous 1970 collapse when WVU blew a 35-8 halftime lead to the Panthers. Galiffa was a sophomore backup behind starter Mike Sherwood that season.
“I remember that game like it was yesterday,” said Galiffa. “There were two bus loads of people from Donora who went up there to watch us play. At halftime, in the locker room, Coach Bowden came up to me and he says, ‘Mike is going to go ahead and take the first series, warm up on the sidelines because you are going in after that.’
“I’m thinking, alright! I run out of the tunnel and I turn to some of the people from my hometown and I tell them, ‘I’m going in.’ I never got in. I warmed up on the sideline for nothing,” Galiffa said.
Pitt scored all four times it had the football as Bowden went conservative. Near the end of the third quarter when panic began to set in on the West Virginia sideline, Galifa figured it was time to quit warming up.
“I’m thinking what is going on out there?” he laughed.
Galiffa also vividly remembers his final regular season game against Syracuse in Morgantown. He threw for 267 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Mountaineers to a 43-12 victory. That win helped West Virginia land a Peach Bowl berth in Atlanta to face North Carolina State.
A horrible second half collapse led to a 49-13 loss to the Wolfpack. North Carolina State coach Lou Holtz, remembering a couple of blowout losses to the Mountaineers when he coached at William & Mary, called timeout with four seconds left to try and tack on an eighth touchdown.
“That game is like a blur to me,” Galiffa said. “I remember the first couple of series we had … we drove down and we kicked field goals. We couldn’t put it in the end zone. If we score a touchdown on at least one of those drives it might have been a different outcome.”
West Virginia finished the ’72 season with an 8-4 record.
Galiffa, 59, is semi-retired and living in Wilmington, N.C. with his wife Rose. He has three daughters, ages 37, 27 and 12. For years he worked in Wheeling at Straub Automotive before deciding nine years ago to move to Wilmington to work for one of the largest auto dealers in North Carolina: Bruce Cavanaugh.
Recently, the economic downturn forced Cavanaugh out of business.
“This economy hits everyone,” said Galiffa. “It’s been really tough on the automotive industry” – almost as tough as Bernie Galiffa was on opposing defenses when he was quarterbacking the Mountaineers.
He was the first WVU quarterback to throw for more than 2,000 yards in one year, his single-season passing record of 2,496 yards standing for 25 years until Marc Bulger broke it in 1998.
“I’m very proud of that,” said Galiffa.
He should be. And just think, what would his passing numbers look like had he played better at the beginning of the season against Villanova and Richmond?