Former Pitt star Osborn uses attitude for good
Billy Osborn may be the last athlete at the University of Pittsburgh to play three sports.
He may have been Bill Hillgrove's longtime color commentator on football broadcasts.
But to anyone who has ever been around him, this isn't what Osborn is best known for.
It's his attitude.
Exuberant. Positive. Inspiring.
And while cynics may say it's easy to be happy when you have lived a self-described "blessed" life that includes playing pro football for his local NFL team, marrying an NFL cheerleader, and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Jon Bon Jovi, that opinion is shortsighted.
This is, after all, a man whose football career left him with serious injuries, from broken collarbones to hernias to a herniated disc in his neck and lost his civic-minded father in 2000 to colon cancer.
Leave it to Osborn to turn a tragedy into something productive with the creation of the Bill Osborn Sr. Foundation (http://thebillosbornfoundation.com ) to raise thousands of dollars for five different charities.
"The mission statement of the foundation is for awareness for the early detection of colon and rectal cancer," Osborn said.
Their next event will be a golf tournament scheduled for a shotgun start this Monday, September 22nd, at the Sand Barrens Golf Club in Southern New Jersey.
Additionally, a "Beef & Beer" Party with the guests is scheduled the day before at The Windrift in Avalon, N.J. from 4-7 p.m. Registration and additional information can be found at the Osborn Foundation website linked above.
"I've had the greatest support from Pitt people for that event," Osborn said. "Pat Cavanaugh [a former basketball teammate who now runs the Cavanaugh Marketing Network] has been unbelievable in support of my event donating money and time."
One theme of this year's tournament is Tony Brown, a former Pitt lineman who Osborn reveals recently was diagnosed with colon cancer.
"It has hit home. Here's a guy who played with me, and he now has colon cancer. We're going to keep him in our thoughts and prayers," Osborn said.
The list of figures who have played in this event reads like a who's who list of Pitt athletic greats, prominent sportscasters, and Philadelphia sports legends; Hillgrove, Eric Schubert, Al Chesley, Foge Fazio, Roger Kingdom, Mark May, Bonnie Bernstein, Ron Jaworski, Dave Shultz, Tony Siragusa, Kato Kaelin…
"I met him through a Pitt connection, at Tony Siragusa's golf tournament. We met and became friends at Foxwoods Casino and Resort in Connecticut. I have no idea how Tony and [Kaelin] met!"
Osborn doesn't just have a bunch of diverse guests for his golf tournament, he's lived a diverse life, both before and after leaving the Panthers booth.
By day, he makes a four-hour roundtrip commute daily from his Marlton, N.J. home to Long Island as a district manager for Metronic Company, the world's largest medical technology that was founded by pacemaker inventor Earl Bakken.
On the weekends, you might be able to catch him giving color analysis for college football telecasts on Comcast or on the Arena Football League champion Philadelphia Soul radio network.
After leaving the Pitt broadcasts following the 2003 season to spend more time with business and his family; wife Jamie, the sister of former Pitt quarterback John Turman, and his two sons William III and Trent, he found some offers to do broadcasting work closer to home.
With the Soul coming into creation, and after meeting Jaworski at a golf tournament, hooking up with the new Arena Football Team was a natural for the former Pittsburgh Gladiator.
It also meant making contacts with celebrities outside of the sports world, namely Soul owner Bon Jovi.
"He is a very dynamic individual. Someone called him the modern day Elvis Presley. In this area he's a megastar but he's so down to earth and really cares about his community.
"He has a saying: 'On our team we don't want characters. We want people with character.'"
Pitt fans remember Osborn as a little of both. Even during the lean years of the '90s, Osborn made listeners to the Panthers broadcasts feel as if they were not tuning into a losing team out of habit but rather a major college football program with an incredible historical legacy.
Halftime interviews promoted the Panthers and their culture; a look at how fundraising was coming to improve the team's fortunes, a chit-chat with John Majors' mother who had made the trip from Tennessee to see her son's team play, an author promoting a book on the Panthers' history, a conversation with Chancellor Mark Nordenberg on how far the program had come under Walt Harris and Steve Pederson.
Then again, Pitt was pretty good to him.
He was recruited to Oakland as a quarterback by legendary line coach Joe Moore at a time when the Panthers had won more games over the past eight seasons than any other college football program.
An arm injury caused him to be redshirted, so the first impact he made for the Panthers was not on the gridiron, but rather the baseball diamond.
"I went out for the baseball team and was an immediate starter at third base," said Osborn, who would soon be playing against the likes of Seton Hall's Craig Biggio and Mo Vaughn.
It also allowed Osborn to meet another Panthers coaching legend, longtime baseball coach Bobby Lewis, the winningest coach in Pitt history with more than 400 victories.
"Quality, quality, quality individual," Osborn said of his former baseball coach. "You don't get the opportunity to meet someone with character and as genuine as Bobby Lewis.
"He was supportive of me. I remember reporting to spring football practice and then driving all night to Georgetown."
In 1988 there was another conflict: basketball.
"I was recruited by [then head basketball coach] Paul Evans at Navy. They were short on numbers and he asked me if I would try out for hoops."
Osborn, who majored in business administration and minored in communications, reduced his credit load to 12 to handle the demands on his time.
"It was a tough three month stretch. I remember during one stretch I was on campus for five days out of 21. Luckily I had great support people.
"I joined the team in January and played in four games. The most memorable moment was getting on the floor against Seton Hall in the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden."
But the experience allowed him to befriend Charles Smith, whom he remains close to today.
"We're great friends and talk a lot. He's helped with the golf tournament and has helped me with customers in New York City."
Osborn's greatest contributions were clearly on the gridiron, however. He finished his three-year career as the 12th leading receiver in Pitt history with 77 receptions resulting in 9 touchdowns and an impressive 14.3 yards per catch average.
Following his career at Pitt, Osborn signed a free agent contract with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1989, but a hernia kept him on injured reserve.
He teamed with former Panthers star Julius Dawkins as receivers for the Arena Football Gladiators in 1990, and had a stint with the Barcelona Dragons of the WLAF, but a herniated disc in his neck ended his playing career.
He renewed his ties with Pitt following stints as a scout for the Kansas City Chiefs and a sales representative for Johnson & Johnson when Majors interviewed him to replace retiring Alex Kramer.
Instead, he would become the color commentator for the Panthers in 1995 when Mark May went national, joining a long list of prestigious talents sitting beside Hillgrove, whom Osborn says he "respects, loves, and admires."
When his high school in Wildwood retired his jersey, it was Hillgrove that made the presentation.
Osborn even had the opportunity to return to the mike recently when the 1987 Bluebonnet Bowl team was honored at Pitt.
After visiting the booth, he learned both Bill Fralic and Hillgrove had to catch planes immediately after the game.
"My first game back I was doing the post-game show! Coach Wannstedt, in the middle of the post-game interview, asked 'Where's Bill and Bill?' They need to pay you!"
In fact, if circumstances dictated it, Osborn wouldn't mind a return to create a three-man booth.
"Pitt will always mean something in my heart. If my work schedule worked out, I'd love to do it," he said.
Of course, there's also his charity schedule. Between the dinner and golf tournament his foundation will be a part of the Philadelphia Soul Summer Slam on August 11, an event befitting the Osborn Foundation that features music, a flag football tournament, and nighttime party with prominent members of the team on the Jersey Shore in Wildwood.
He hopes one day to have Bon Jovi play the event and for the Osborn Foundation to raise enough money to build a wing onto the Cape Regional Medical Center in Cape May Court House, N.J.
With Osborn's attitude and determination, few would bet against those goals.