Bitterlich Kicks His Way Into Record Books

 
When Don Bitterlich stood up on his chair in the commissary of the Seattle Seahawks training camp and did the traditional singing of his college's fight song, like all NFL rookies are expected to, he hid a secret from his teammates. He could have accompanied himself with a musical instrument.
 
"I wasn't telling them I played the accordion," he said. "I never would have heard the end of it. I just got up and sang like everyone else."
 
Bitterlich might have been a football player who scored the first points in Seahawks history, but the 1971 William Tennent graduate has a much longer history with the accordion than the pigskin.
 
"I started when I was 7," said Bitterlich. "My grandparents were from Germany and I used to listen to a lot of German bands growing up."
 
His NFL career ended when he lost a battle for the Philadelphia Eagles placekicking job to Horst Muhlmann, so he turned to using the engineering degree he earned at Temple University as well as the accordion to make a living.
 
Bitterlich has a steady gig playing Friday nights at Otto's Brauhaus in Horsham and also has a busy schedule of private parties, restaurants and clubs, performing from the Jersey Shore to Lancaster. Of course, in October he is extremely busy. You can't have an Oktoberfest event without an authentic German accordion player.
 
"It really helped pay the bills for my (two) daughters’ college education," said Bitterlich of his accordion performing. "I've been performing since high school. It's nice to go out and entertain people."
 
In high school - besides the accordion - Bitterlich's main focus was soccer.
 
His father Richard, was the first president of the Vereinigung Erzgebirge soccer club in Warminster and his brother, Jay Bitterlich, is currently the president. The family grew up in Philadelphia but moved in 1967 when Don was about to enter high school to be closer to the club.
 
"Warminster was a lot different then," remembered Bitterlich. "County Line and Street roads were only two lanes, and a lot of the cross streets weren't paved."
 
At the time, Tennent was a member of the Lower Bucks League, which later merged into the Suburban One League (and now is basically the SOL National Conference), and Bitterlich remembers the epic battles with Neshaminy, led by future NFL kickers Chris and Matt Bahr, for the soccer championship.
 
"We would get a lot of people at those games," he said. "They always won the championship. We beat them one time but had a tie with Council Rock so they still won the league. I also remember our games with Woodrow Wilson. They had a lot of kids from Bristol and those were very physical games."
 
In a bit of good fortune, the Bahr's father, Walter Bahr (a member of the famous 1950 USA World Cup team) was the head soccer coach at Temple University and he offered Bitterlich a scholarship.
 
The bad part of the scholarship was that the soccer team's schedule had too many conflicts with Temple's music school, so Bitterlich could not major in music as he planned and switched to civil engineering.
 
Up until his junior year of college, Bitterlich's connection to football was tenuous at best. He had never even gone to a football game while at Tennent.
 
All that changed in July before his junior year when he received a call from Bahr. The football team's placekicker, Nick Mike-Mayer, had graduated, and they were looking for a replacement.
 
"I'd never kicked a football before so I went out and bought three footballs and went over to Tennent's field and worked on it for a week, then I was in Temple's football camp," he said.
 
It turned out that Bitterlich was good at kicking a football - very good.
 
In 2007, he was inducted into the Temple Hall of Fame.
 
For one year, he played both soccer and football for the Owls.
 
"It was overwhelming," he said. "I was also commuting from Warminster. I was killing myself. I was only going to classes three times a week because I was going to so many away games. They finally realized they better have me living on campus."
 
Bitterlich left the soccer team and was strictly football after that, although on non-football weekends he still made appearances with the accordion. He ended up playing three years on both soccer and football before graduating with a degree in engineering in 1976.
 
In his senior year, he set NCAA records for field goals made (21), points scored (95), field goals per game (1.9 pg.) in a season and career marks for consecutive PATs (87), points scored (220) and points per game (7.1 pg.).
 
Bitterlich still owns the Temple record for longest field goal made (56 yards) and his 53-yarder and 52-yarder ranks second and third on the school's all-time list . His 95 points scored in that memorable senior season still stands as the Owls' all-time record for points in a season
 
That year, the NFL expanded and added a franchise in Seattle. Bitterlich was drafted in the third-round, and his 27-yard field goal in the Seahawks opener was the first points scored in franchise history. His holder was Jim Zorn, until recently the head coach of the Washington Redskins.
 
Bitterlich played only year in Seattle as the life of an NFL placekicker rarely has security. He had tryouts with the San Francisco 49ers and San Diego Chargers as well as the Eagles before deciding to start using his engineering degree.
 
He started out with a residential developer but quickly got into construction and moved into management. Currently, he is a senior project manager for Keating and is supervising the renovation of the old 30th Street Post Office into a regional headquarters for the IRS.
 
Although there are female placekickers on high school teams in the area, Bitterlich's daughters did not follow in his footsteps. His daughter Lisa Bitterlich was a standout soccer and field hockey player at Wissahickon and went on to play at Eastern College.
 
Bitterlich still keeps his hand in the game as he teaches placekicking for two weeks during the summer at camps run by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Kutztown and Salisbury Universities.
 
But on most weekends, if he had his druthers, Bitterlich will be playing the accordion.
 
"I actually have had people recognize me," he said. "After a week of work, it's great to go up to Otto's and enjoy myself."