In the late 1960s, when steel was king and high school sports meant everything to a community, Bernard "Bernie" Galiffa did his hometown of Donora proud as a three-sport star high school athlete.
He went on to West Virginia University where as a senior quarterback in 1972 he completed 164 of 334 passes for 2,496 yards and 17 touchdowns to become the first quarterback in school history to throw for more than 2,000 yards in a season. His school passing record lasted 26 years until Marc Bulger eclipsed it in 1998, and it still remains the fifth best single-season passing performance in school history.
Today, those in Donora and in the WVU community who once cheered Mr. Galiffa are mourning his death Thursday in Wilmington, N.C., where he retired after a lifelong career as a car salesman, mostly in Wheeling. Mr. Galiffa, 63, died of sepsis, his wife, Rosie, said.
The couple met in 1995 when she went to buy a car at Straub Automotive in Wheeling where Mr. Galiffa had been a longtime salesman. She knew nothing of his football heroics when he first asked her out but quickly learned about them when she told her brother, Tom, the salesman's name.
"He said, 'You have to go out with him so I can meet him!' " she recalled.
She and Mr. Galiffa married in September of that year. "It was kind of funny that he met and fell in love with me, someone who wasn't schooled in sports."
In Donora, they are schooled in sports -- and then some. And Mr. Galiffa's exploits as a star athlete endeared him to the populace in the hardscrabble town along the Monongahela River. There, residents pride themselves as the "Home of Champions" for such homegrown heroes as Stan "The Man" Musial, "Deacon" Dan Towler, Roscoe "The Rambler" Ross, Lou "Bimbo" Cecconi and coach Jimmy Russell.
Also in that pantheon was Mr. Galiffa's uncle, Arnold "Pope" Galiffa. A generation earlier he had wowed fans of the Donora Dragons as a star quarterback before going on to play as an All-American at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. After serving in Korea, he played in the National Football League, first for the New York Giants, then coached by Vince Lombardi, and then the San Francisco 49ers before joining the Canadian Football League.
Following in that tradition, Mr. Galiffa was a Dragons quarterback, guiding the team to an undefeated season in 1967, his senior year. He was mentioned in Sports Illustrated's "Faces in the Crowd" feature for connecting on 88 of 149 passes, good for 22 touchdowns and 1,873 yards. Those stats weren't just great, the article noted, but they broke Joe Namath's high school record in Western Pennsylvania of 77 of 125 passes for 17 touchdowns and 1,115 yards.
Another star on that team, to whom Mr. Galiffa frequently completed passes, was end Ken Griffey, who was a year younger than Mr. Galiffa. The two gifted athletes were also teammates on the high school basketball and baseball teams. Mr. Griffey gained fame for 19 seasons in Major League Baseball, mostly with the Cincinnati Reds -- and for being the father of baseball phenom Ken Griffey Jr. Mr. Galiffa and the elder Mr. Griffey remained lifelong friends, visiting with each other.
At WVU, Mr. Galiffa was a two-year starter for coach Bobby Bowden, leading the Mountaineers to records of 7-4 in 1971 and 8-4 in 1972.
Mrs. Galiffa said her husband was greatly influenced by Coach Bowden, who taught him to be a team player and to be humble, lessons that he carried throughout his life.
"It was something that stuck with my husband, the way he was coached. His decisions later in life reflected that ... how you approach people and being sincere and humble in everything you do," she said.
Teaming with such standout players as Danny Buggs, Marshall Mills, Nate Stephens and Kerry Marbury, Mr. Galiffa orchestrated the nation's fourth-ranked scoring offense in 1972. The Mountaineers averaged 36.5 points per game on the way to a Peach Bowl appearance in Atlanta against North Carolina State.
West Virginia finished sixth in the country in passing in 1972, averaging 227.8 yards per game, and eighth in total offense, averaging 411.9 yards per game.
According to WVU, which issued a press release noting Mr. Galiffa's death, Mr. Galiffa had the best game of his Mountaineer career in a 28-19 loss to Penn State in Morgantown during his senior year. He passed for a career-best 341 yards with two touchdowns after beginning the game by throwing interceptions on his first two pass attempts.
The 5-foot-11, 184-pounder also passed for 304 yards and a pair of touchdowns in West Virginia's 38-20 romp of rival University of Pittsburgh, as well as a 298-yard, four-TD performance in West Virginia's 48-10 runaway victory over Virginia.
As a junior, Mr. Galiffa threw for 1,543 yards and eight touchdowns.
For his career, Galiffa completed 310-of-623 pass attempts for 4,426 and 28 touchdowns. He ranks eighth in school history in pass attempts, ninth in passing yards, 11th in pass completions and 12th in total plays, WVU said.
Mr. Galiffa's 89-yard touchdown pass to Chris Potts against Duke in 1971 is the third-longest pass play in school history.
In 2000, Mr. Galiffa and his wife moved to Wilmington where he went to work for Bruce Cavanaugh Auto, one of the largest auto dealers in North Carolina. The dealership went out of business in 2009, at which time he retired. With his free time, he ended up becoming quite a gardener, planting tomatoes and flowers. He also attended Mass at least four times a week.
"He was the love of my life," Mrs. Galiffa said. "We still acted like we were crazy in love with each other. I planned to grow old with him but, unfortunately, God had another plan for us."
In addition to his wife, Mr. Galiffa is survived by three daughters, Benee Maranacci of Martin's Ferry, Ohio, Dior Galiffa of Wheeling, and Julia Galiffa of Wilmington; two brothers, Art Galiffa of Florida and Ronald Galiffa of Denver, Colo.; and three granddaughters.
A memorial Mass will be held at noon Wednesday at St. Therese Church in Wrightsville Beach, N.C. Wilmington Funeral and Cremation is in charge of arrangements. Plans are being formulated for a memorial in Donora.
Michael A. Fuoco: email@example.com or 412-263-1968. Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette or 412-263-1262.