Updating the Pittsburgh Panthers All-Time Football Team

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John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog:  https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/

Back in 2011, after trying unsuccessfully to find a recent article regarding an All-Time Pitt Panthers football team, I wrote the following article that can be found at: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/789636-announcing-the-pittsburgh-panthers-all-time-football-team. The past six years has allowed us sufficient time to revisit the subject and to see what players may have earned their way on to Pitt’s all-time team.

Pitt’s all-time team would rank among the best that have ever played college football. Presenting the updated University of Pittsburgh’s All-Time team:

QB

At quarterback, who else could it be but No. 13, Dan Marino? Marino will forever be the benchmark for future Pitt quarterbacks and what Sparky Anderson said about Johnny Bench can be applied to Dan Marino and to Pitt quarterbacks before and after Marino, “Don’t embarrass anyone by comparing them to Dan Marino.”

An All-American in 1981, Marino broke nearly every major passing record in school history and still holds the school record for most touchdown passes in a career with 79 and in a season with 37. Marino was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2002.

RB

Behind Marino in the backfield are two running backs that, like Marino, had their jersey number retired by the University of Pittsburgh.  If anyone would not select Tony Dorsett to Pitt’s all-time team, then automatically consider that list null and void. Dorsett is on the short list of the greatest running backs in college football history.

Dorsett was a four-time All-American and won the Heisman Trophy in 1976, leading Pitt to a national championship. He was one of the few running backs ever that was a threat to go the distance on every carry and Dorsett set an NCAA career rushing record with 6,081 yards, the first player ever to rush for over 6,000 yards.  Dorsett was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1994 and was named to Sports Illustrated’s NCAA All-Century Team.

Some may want to list James Conner in Pitt’s all-time backfield to join Dorsett. Conner did finish with 3,733 yards rushing and 56 touchdowns in his college career. Pitt had quite a few other outstanding running backs over the years as well: Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, Randy McMillan, Curtis Martin, Curvin Richards, LeSean McCoy, and Dion Lewis, just to name a few, and some would argue that one of them should be Dorsett’s backfield mate on Pitt’s all-time team, but the choice here is Marshall Goldberg.  None of the others has their number retired nor led their team to two national championships like Goldberg did.

For that matter, how many players finish in the top three in Heisman Trophy voting two years in a row? Goldberg, a two-time All-American, finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1937, was the Heisman runner-up in 1938, and held the Pitt career rushing mark for nearly 40 years until Dorsett came along. When you finish in the top three for the Heisman Trophy twice and your jersey number is retired, there is no doubt you were a great player.

WR

At wide receiver, there is no debate in selecting Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald won the Biletnikoff and Walter Camp Awards in 2003 and finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting, the highest finish for a sophomore in the history of the award. In 26 games at Pitt, he had back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons, averaged over 100 yards per game receiving, caught 34 touchdown passes and set an NCAA record with at least one touchdown catch in 18 consecutive games. Fitzgerald still holds Pitt’s single-season records for receptions, 92, and receiving yardage, 1,672. Had he stayed for his junior and senior seasons Fitzgerald would probably be considered the greatest wide receiver in college football history.

Despite being Pitt’s all-time career leader in receptions with 254 and receiving yards with 3,361, Tyler Boyd does not break into the lineup as the other Pitt’s all-time wide receiver. Joining Fitzgerald at the other wide receiver position is another Biletnikoff Award winner, Antonio Bryant. As a sophomore in 2000, Bryant was Big East Offensive Player of the Year, leading the nation in receiving yards per game, and went on to become Pitt’s all-time leader in receiving yards with 3,061 before Boyd surpassed it.

TE

At tight end, no player before or since embodied hard-nosed smash mouth football more than Mike Ditka. Ditka, an All-American in 1960, led the Panthers in receiving for three consecutive seasons. His number 89 has been retired by Pitt and Ditka was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and he was named to Sports Illustrated’s NCAA All-Century Team.

OL

Since 2011, Pitt’s had some fine offensive linemen earn All-American honors such as Dorian Johnson, Adam Bisnowaty and Brian O’Neill, but Pitt’s all-time offensive line is a difficult one to break into which speaks to the outstanding play of those individuals.

OT

Some great offensive tackles have played at Pitt. Players like two-time All-American Jimbo Covert, and All-Americans Randy Dixon and Reuben Brown, but when you think about Pitt’s offensive line, particularly the tackle position, two players stand out above the rest, Bill Fralic and Mark May.

Fralic was a three-time All-American and finished eighth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1983 and sixth in 1984, which is remarkable for a modern-day offensive lineman. Fralic was one of the greatest offensive tackles in college football history, and was named to the Sports Illustrated NCAA All-Century Team and is in the College Football Hall of Fame.

May won the Outland Trophy in 1980 as the best lineman in the country, and did not give up a sack his final two years at Pitt. An All-American in 1980, May was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2005.

Both Fralic and May have their uniform numbers retired, and when you are one of the very few to have your uniform retired by your university, you should be on your school’s all-time team.

OG

At guard, the choices are Mark Stepnoski and Ray Montgomery. Stepnoski was an All-American in 1988 and helped open holes that allowed Curvin Richards to rush for over 1,200 yards that year.  Montgomery was All-American in 1929, and Panthers’ legendary coach Jock Sutherland called Montgomery the perfect guard. That’s good enough for me.

C

There have been some outstanding centers for Pitt, but how many were three-time All-Americans?  Only one. Bob Peck was Pitt’s only three-time All-American center. Peck anchored Pitt’s offensive line and earned national recognition in 1914, 1915 and 1916 and helped lead Pitt to national championships in 1915 and 1916. Peck was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1954. If you make All-American three times, you have earned a spot on your school’s all-time team, period. Peck gets the nod over two-time All-American and fellow College Football Hall-of-Famer Herb Stein.

DE

In a city that appreciates defensive football, Pitt fans in the ‘70s witnessed a player for the ages. At defensive end was one of the best in college football history, Hugh Green, a three-time All-American.  Green finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 1980 and received the Maxwell Award as the top player in the nation and the Walter Camp Award for the college football player of the year. Green’s number 99 was retired by Pitt and he was named to the Sports Illustrated NCAA All-Century Team. Green is still Pitt’s all-time sack leader with 49.

Defensive ends Jabaal Sheard and Ejuan Price both had All-American seasons since 2011 but the other defensive end on Pitt’s All-Time team is Green’s teammate Rickey Jackson. Jackson and Green teamed up to give Pitt the finest set of defensive ends in the country. Jackson finished his career at Pitt as the school’s fifth all-time leading tackler.

DT

At defensive tackle, the first choice is unquestionably Aaron Donald. In 2013, Donald became Pitt’s most decorated defensive tackle ever winning the Bednarik Award, the Lombardi Award, the Outland Trophy and the Nagurski Trophy for his outstanding play that year. Donald won just about every award he was eligible for other than the Heisman Trophy. Donald finished his career at with 29.5 sacks and 66 tackles for loss. The other choice at defensive tackle is All-American Randy Holloway.  Holloway was All-American in 1977 and his 33.5 sacks are still second all-time in Pitt history.

LB

At linebacker for Pitt, you have a trio of All-Americans:  Jerry Olsavsky, Joe Schmidt, and H.B. Blades. You could do more than pencil in Olsavsky for 100 tackles a year; you could put it in ink and guarantee it.

Joe Schmidt was a leader and team captain for the Panthers and was named an All-American in 1952 and later inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000. Schmidt’s number 65 has been retired by Pitt.

H.B. Blades was an All-American in 2006 and was Big East defensive player of the year that year. Blades was a three-time All-Big East selection and he is third all-time in career tackles at Pitt with 433.

CB

At cornerback, one has to select Darrelle Revis. One could see while at Pitt that Revis could play alone on an island at cornerback and would do well in the NFL. Revis tied and/or led the Panthers in interceptions in 2005 and 2006 and had two interception returns for touchdowns in 2006.

At the other cornerback spot, the pick is Tim Lewis. Lewis was a two-year starter at cornerback and was selected by the Green Bay Packers as the 11th overall player selected in the first round of the 1983 NFL draft.

S

At one safety spot is Pitt’s all-time interception leader Bob Jury. Jury picked off 21 passes while at Pitt, and still holds the two highest interception totals for a season in Pitt history, intercepting 10 passes in 1976 and eight in 1977. Jury was named All-American in 1977.

At the other safety spot is Carlton Williamson. Williamson is best remembered for the pick-six interception against Penn State in 1980 to seal a Pitt victory over arch-rival Penn State, but his steady play drew the attention of the San Francisco 49ers, becoming a member of their Super Bowl winning teams after his playing days at Pitt.

K

Pitt’s all-time kicker is Conor Lee. Lee shares the school record making 12 consecutive field goals and holds Pitt’s career field goal percentage record with 83.3%.

P

The choice for punter on Pitt’s all-time team is Brian Greenfield. Greenfield holds both the highest season and highest career punting averages at Pitt and was named an All-American in 1990.

KR

The choice for kick returner used to be Hank Poteat. Whereas Poteat never returned a kickoff for a touchdown in his 81 kickoff returns, Quadree Henderson returned four in 73 returns. Henderson’s career average of 26.6 is nearly three yards per return better than Poteat and Henderson averaged 30.5 yards a return in 2016.

PR

Make room again for Henderson as Pitt’s all-time punt returner as well. Tom Flynn still is Pitt’s leader in career punt return yardage with 983 with two touchdowns in 122 returns and an 8.1 yards punt return average. Just how good was Henderson though? Henderson had three touchdowns in 37 returns and a 13.4 yards career punt return average.

There you have it, Pitt’s all-time team, which would certainly be in the upper echelon of all-time college teams.

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John Baranowski

John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog:  https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/

Updating the Pittsburgh P…

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