Dan Marino, Tony Dorsett, and many others have worn a Pitt jersey with pride over the years. The Pittsburgh Panthers football team has a long and storied history dating back to 1890. The Panthers have won nine national championships—11th most in college football—and have participated in 28 bowl games under the guidance of famous coaches Jock Sutherland, Pop Warner and Johnny Majors.
During this time the Panthers have had a great number of athletes that have made an enormous impact on the team and college football as a whole. Let’s take a look at the star athletes that made an impression on the program throughout the years and put Pitt football on the map.
Joe Schmidt was a monster on the gridiron that instilled fear in his opponents and occasionally his own teammates.
Schmidt was a force to be reckoned with despite a variety of major injuries suffered and three different head coaches during his collegiate career. He was an All-American in 1952 and led the Panthers to a much storied victory over a heavily favored Notre Dame team.
The kid from Pittsburgh put his mark on the game and has been enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame. Joe Schmidt embodied the stoutness and true character of what a Pittsburgh Panther football player should be.
Craig "Ironhead" Heyward was known for his imposing frame, his incredible agility for his size and the ability to gain the extra yard when it mattered most. 1987 was a banner year for Heyward in which he was an All-American and finished fifth in the Heisman voting. Heyward is third on the Pitt Panther all-time rushing list with 3,086 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Heyward was taken with the 27th pick in the first round of the 1988 NFL draft as a result. Heyward's bruising style was inspiring to the steel city faithful and will always be remembered in the lore of exceptional Pitt running backs.
Larry Fitzgerald is far and away the best wide receiver to ever grace the halls of Pitt. In only two years Fitzgerald amassed 161 catches, 2,677 yards and 34 touchdowns.
Fitzgerald was a one man force and an All-American in 2003. He also took home the 2003 Walter Camp and Biletnikoff awards and was the runner up to Jason White of Oklahoma for the Heisman trophy. Fitzgerald holds an NCAA record for 18 consecutive games with a touchdown reception as well.
Fitzgerald made the college football world take notice and led his team to bowl games in his two seasons. All though Fitzgerald’s time as a Panther was short, it left an indelible impression.
His nickname was “May Day” and he earned it while keeping opposing defenders on their heels.
Mark May won the 1980 Outland Trophy given to the best offensive lineman in college football. May was a 1980 All-American and helped the Panthers to finish the season with an 11-1 record, a convincing Gator Bowl win over South Carolina and a No. 2 ranking in the final AP poll, which is the team’s best finish to date.
May did not allow a sack for his entire junior and senior year, which makes him one of the true great linemen in the annals of Pitt.
Bill Fralic revolutionized collegiate offensive line play to the point that the term "pancake" was coined in regard to his flattening of opposing defenders.
Fralic finished sixth in the 1984 Heisman trophy voting as an offensive lineman, which is almost unheard of. He was a two-time All-American during his years at Pitt.
Fralic spent a good amount of his time keeping Dan Marino’s jersey clean and was rewarded with being taken as the No. 2 pick in the 1985 NFL draft. Fralic took offensive line play to a new level, ushered in the new normal of enormous linemen and became a true Pitt great.
Mike Ditka is widely regarded as one of the greatest collegiate tight ends of all time.
It says quite a lot about Ditka, a tight end, that he was sixth in the 1960 Heisman voting. Mike Ditka finished his career with 730 yards and seven touchdowns in three seasons, each of which he led the team in receiving.
Ditka also played menacing defense and even punted for the Panthers to put his mark on all three phases of the game. Mike Ditka went onto greater fame as an NFL player and as a coach, but Ditka’s toughness and spirited play truly exemplified Pitt Panther football.
Dan Marino grew up in the shadows of Pitt Stadium and soon became the face of his hometown team. Marino never really tapped into his full potential at Pitt and still managed to be named an All-American in 1981 and finished fourth in the Heisman voting. Marino posted 7,905 yards, 74 touchdowns but also 64 interceptions during his tenure at the helm of the Panthers.
Under Marino's leadership Pitt defeated a Herschel Walker led Georgia Bulldog team in the 1982 Sugar Bowl but failed to make an impact against SMU in the 1983 Cotton Bowl. Marino had a lackluster senior season leaving fans wondering what might have been, but still managed to cement his place in the annals of Pitt football.
Hugh Green was the most menacing Pitt defender that ever stepped onto the field at Pitt Stadium.
The three-time All-American was feared by opposing offenses and had 460 tackles, 53 sacks, and 52 tackles for loss to show for it. His impact as a defender was so significant that he finished second in the 1980 Heisman voting behind South Carolina RB George Rogers.
Green did win the Maxwell, Walter Camp, and Lombardi awards during his senior season of 1980. Green left behind a legacy at Pitt that any Pitt defender that ever followed would strive to live up to.
Marshall Goldberg led the Panthers to national championships in 1936 and 1937 under Jock Sutherland. He was a two-time All-American and finished third in the 1937 Heisman trophy voting. Goldberg was prolific in the backfield and racked up 1,957 rushing yards during his tenure, which was the Pitt record at the time.
Goldberg's rushing record stood firm until Tony Dorsett donned a Pitt uniform. Goldberg was a true general on the field, not only garnering personal success but also showing his knack for leading his team to victory. Goldberg is a true icon of the heyday of Pitt football.
Tony Dorsett took the team from the steel city to the national stage. Dorsett ran for 6,082 yards and 59 touchdowns which is third on the all-time FBS rushing list behind Ron Dayne and Ricky Williams. Dorsett was a four-time All-American and won the Walter Camp and Maxwell awards as well. He also took home the 1976 Heisman becoming the only Heisman winner in Pitt's history.
In the process Dorsett also carried the team to the 1976 national title. Suffice it to say, Tony Dorsett dazzled the nation with his brilliance in the backfield and firmly planted himself into the record books and the College football Hall of Fame. Dorsett is arguably the greatest Pitt player of all time.
Alex Van Pelt QB (’89-’92)
Alex Van Pelt showed his aerial prowess during his time in Pittsburgh. He is currently second on the Pitt all-time passing list with 3,163 passing yards.
Darrelle Revis CB (’04-’06)
Revis was known for his ability to shut down opposing skill players from his defensive back position. He had a knack for finding the ball with two interception returns for touchdowns and one punt return for a touchdown.
Jimbo Covert OL (’79-’82)
Covert was a two time All-American offensive lineman who made his mark at Pitt alongside Russ Grimm, Bill Fralic and Mark May. Covert’s exceptional play earned him a place in the College Football Hall of Fame.