Friday, August 3, 2012

Counting down the top Pitt football players of the last 40 years- No.1 Tony Dorsett

I will be counting down my own list of the top 50 Pitt football players since 1972.  I have spent time doing a lot of research and talking to a lot of people when formulating this list, but ultimately it is MY opinion.  The great thing about lists like this is that people will disagree, and feel free to, but just remember that there is no right answer so there's no need to go crazy if you do disagree.  I will post this same intro with all 50 bios because I know the one time I don't, people will complain about not knowing what criteria I used.  I will add at least one a day, maybe two.  

My criteria for selecting the order is as follows:

1.  Productivity.
2.  Talent.
3.  Place in program history.
4.  Only the player's careers while at Pitt are considered, not their NFL careers. 
5.  No current players.

1.  Tony Dorsett (1973-76)-  Well, where do I start?  He was a four time All-American, including a three time First Team All-American, he won Pitt's only Heisman Trophy, he led the Panthers to an undefeated National Championship season, and he ended his career as the all-time leading rusher in NCAA history.  Other than that he was just okay.

As a freshman, the Hopewell High School phenom became the first freshman first team All-American in 29 years thanks to a then national freshman record of 1,586 yards, a 5.5 avg., and 12 touchdowns.  His 265 yard game against Northwestern was also a national freshman record at the time and he ran for 209 yards against Notre Dame.  His yardage total was second in the nation.

As a sophomore, Dorsett was not as spectacular thanks to defenses ganging up on him, but he ran for 1,004 yards, a 4.6 avg., and 9 touchdowns.  But that's still pretty good for a supposed down year and he was named a second team All-American.

As a junior he was again phenomenal with 1,544 yards, a 6.8 avg., and 11 touchdowns.  He also gained a whopping 303 yards against Notre Dame.  He ended the season again as a first team All-American and again was the second leading rusher in the nation.  He finished 4th in the Heisman voting, losing to Ohio State's Archie Griffin, who won for the second year in a row despite inferior stats of 1,450 yards, a 5.5 avg., and 4 touchdowns.

As a senior, it all came together with the undefeated National Championship season and the Heisman Trophy.  Dorsett accumulated an NCAA leading 1,948 regular season rushing yards, a 5.8 avg., and 21 touchdowns.  His single season yardage total was then the most ever in NCAA history.

In the final regular season game, against Penn State, Dorsett ran for 224 yards and 2 touchdowns.  Afterwards, Penn State defensive end Ron Crosby said, "I think he's the greatest back I've ever seen.  I've never seen anyone with acceleration like that".  In the National Championship Sugar Bowl game he ran for 202 yards and a touchdown.  Needless to say he was again named a first team All-American, this time unanimously. He once again torched Notre Dame, this time for 181 yards, even after it was rumored that the Irish kept the grass high to slow him down.  In his four games against Notre Dame, Dorsett has rushed for 754 yards, still an NCAA record against an opponent.  After the season, he also won the Walter Camp Award, the Maxwell Trophy, and every other national player of the year award.

 Dorsett had four 1,000 yard seasons, including three 1,500 yard seasons.  In his four seasons he accumulated 6,082 rushing yards, a 5.7 avg., and 55 TDs.  His total yardage was the best in NCAA history, and he held on to that record for an incredible 22 years.  He was also the first player to rush for over 1,500 yards three times.

Not only did he win the Heisman and finish 4th in '75, but he is still the only player in NCAA history to finish in the top 13 in the Heisman voting for four years.   He is also a College Hall of Famer, an NFL Hall of Famer, and a Super Bowl champion.  ESPN ranked him the No.7 college player of all-time.

I could go on and on about his accomplishments, but Dorsett's importance go well beyond his stats.  The Pitt program was bad for decades when Dorsett and arrived and in four years he was the main player responsible for the National Championship.  He put Pitt on the map in the modern era with his fame and playing ability.  He also was highly responsible for the 1977 incoming recruiting class.  To a man, every player in that class mentions Dorsett as the reason they came, not only because they were fans, but because he literally recruited them on their visit to the campus.  Included in that class, considered the best Pitt class of of all-time, were Hugh Green, Rickey Jackson, Mark May, Carlton Williamson, and Russ Grimm.


  1. Yes Tony "the Hawk" Dorsett..who else could it be?

    Tony and I went to the same high school and one of the coaches told me a story about his uncanny vision (and reason for the nickname Hawk). Tony also played basketball in high school. There was a collision under the basket which caused a player to lose a contact. Players, refs etc. searched the floor for a while in an attempt to locate the lost contact. Tony who was sitting on the bench at the opposite end of the floor leans over and tells the coach that he sees the lens on the floor. The coach doesn't believe him. Tony gets up from the bench, walks the length of the floor, picks up the contact and hands it to the player who lost it. Unreal.

    1. He ran track also..

      I saw Dorsett play in HS... I was in MS..
      Wow was he fast and quick... unbelievable.
      I think it was his ability to switch gears that made him soooo great.

      btw... he is considered a Quip.. you know he went to Hopewell because he didn't think he would be a starter for Quip. He live in Griffen Heights.. Plan 11 section a block from Quip/Hopewell border but on the Quip side... the story goes, he used his grandmothers address (a block away from his parents) in Griffen Heights who was on the Hopewell side of the border.

    2. Tony Dorsett lived in Plan 11, but it was Glenn Street, not Griffen Heights. Griffen Heights was a distance away...across Monaca Rd and up the hill. I lived on a hill just above and behind the buildings where the Dorsetts lived. And yes, we all rode the bus to Hopewell Township schools.

    3. He lived on Mt. Vernon dr to be exact..
      but I don't know exactly where the border is...
      and where his grandmother was versus his parents...

    4. Mt Vernon Drive - - Concur.

  2. There are lots of stories of how Sherrill landed Dorsett...

    Chryst and crew would never do... they are too busy on vacation...

    Sherrill knew everyone at the Hopewell HS... including the janitors.
    He knew everyone at Griffen Heights...
    He slept on Dorsetts couch to keep other schools from recruiting TD. The entire week before LOI day!!!
    It's legendary...

    Dorsett was the "pool boy" for the Zernichs... 3 Doctors in Center that built 4 homes on a cul de sac... the Zernich were big time Panther Club members... they help recruit Dorsett.. All 3 Zernichs played sports at Pitt. That is how they "paid" the players back in the day... working for some Panther Club member.

  3. As a 2005 Pitt graduate, it's hard for me to fathom Dorsett's contribution, both on and off the field. Obviously I wasn't around to see him play but the stories, statistics, plays, etc. etc. give me chills. I've watched highlights of TD run wild at Pitt (and for the Cowboys) but I am going to have to get my hands on some game tapes so I can appreciate what he did game-in-and-game-out for 4 quarters.

    My era TD is Fitz. I was at every home game for the two years Larry played and I still ramble to anyone who will listen about the remarkable catches he made while being basically the only offensive threat and double and triple-teamed. Every now-and-then I go to Youtube to watch Larry's highlight reel. I think I'll do that again this weekend.

    Great stuff, Doke!!!

  4. Another recruiting story...

    Sherrill would visit TD 3 times a week for 6 months.
    Sherrill's mother delivered Rubar pie to Dorsetts mother...

    Is Chryst or Engram at Central Valley 3 times a week or even weekly trying to land Foster.
    He is on vacation!! Asleep at the wheel.

    1. Ok let's save the Chryst shots for my posts that actually talk about his recruiting.

  5. Great Pick Chris-Was at Pitt getting my masters degree when TD and the boys won the National Championship. I marvel as to how quick and deceptive TD was-met him once and he could not have been nicer! Agree that we give the Chryst vacation a rest and enjoy things for awhile!!

  6. I read somewhere that TD is the only football player ever, anywhere that won:
    1.) Nat Champ
    2.) Heisman Trophy
    3.) NFL rookie of the year
    4.) NFL rushing title

    Also, Chris, great job, but where was Jeff Christy on the list? Set the state scoring record in high school. Started at 4 or 5 different positions during his 4 years at Pitt. LB, FB, G, C and even punted a few times. Then a great pro career with 3 or 4 pro bowls and a super bowl ring.

    1. Only college play os considered, not high school or pro, and while he was a good player, I think it's safe to say that he wasn't in the top 3%, which is what it took to be on the list.

    2. Dorsett is the only player ever to win:

      1)Super Bowl
      2)College National Championship
      3)Heisman trophy
      4)NFL Hall of Fame
      5)College Hall of Fame

      One other player fit these too except the College Championship was shared for 2 schools. I believe it was Marcus Allen.

  7. Doke,

    Great series!! I wish I had your job. I'd make a few changes, not many (Revis & Marino, for two).

    Just curious, why no special-teamers? I can think of 1-2 punters & PKs that (at least) deserve mention. Old saying: If you don't think those guys are important, just wait until you don't have a good one...

    Now, can we please move on to finding out what Chryst & Company are doing to help make PSU's bad situation worse?? (smile). Surely they have coupla better WRs, OLs and DTs that we desperately need...

    Or are they still on vacation?

  8. Just heard QB Mark Meyers is transferring for those interested

    1. Hollins suspended for the year... he was listed as starter at LT coming out of spring ball.
      Chris Davis suspended for 1st game...

      Is Savage eligible this season??
      Voytik is looking good to get playing time this season.
      Reminds me of when Marino came in frosh year...

  9. Bowling Green PantherAugust 3, 2012 at 4:54 PM

    So what's up next? An honorable mention list or a best players of the previous 40 years? Joking (partially)

    Wonderful job! Thanks for the memories and all your hard work!

  10. I was at that Penn State game at 3 Rivers....still have the ticket stub.

  11. I was at the Penn State game at Three Rivers and at the Sugar Bowl when we won the National Championship-two of the greatest days in my life.

  12. I had recently complete d my MS degree and was working full time in the Pittsburgh area and was a season ticket holder throughout the Dorsett era.

    Maybe my memory is faulty from those days; but, my recollection about the 1,004 yd soph year was that the lower rushing total for that year was more because he was injured and missed a few games than that defenses were stacked against him.

  13. Anonymous, Dorsett missed only one game in his career at Pitt, and that was against Temple his sophomore year. He was probably at 100% ins some of those games...

  14. I knew tony and his father very well