With Pitt football about to embark on a new era under head football coach Todd Graham, lets take a look back on some of the great players who’ve played at Pitt and comprise Pitt’s all-time football team.
Some selections were easier than others as some of the players on Pitt’s all-time team rank among the best that have ever played college football, which, in turn, necessitates leaving some outstanding players off Pitt’s all-time team.
So without further adieu, presenting the University of Pittsburgh’s All-Time team:
At quarterback, who else 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 since, “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.
Behind Marino in the backfield are two running backs that, like Marino, have their 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 who truly 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.
Pitt’s had more than a few outstanding running backs over the years: Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, Randy McMillan, Curtis Martin, Curvin Richards, LeSean McCoy and Dion Lewis, 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 have their number retired, finished in the top three in Heisman voting two consecutive years and led their team to two national championships like Goldberg did.
Goldberg, a two-time All-American, finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1937 and was the Heisman runner-up in 1938 and held the Pitt career rushing mark for nearly 40 years till Dorsett came along. When your jersey number is retired, that’s clearly an indication that you were a great player.
At wide receiver there is no debate in selecting Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald won the Biletnikoff and Walter Camp Award 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 the 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.
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.
At tight end no player before or since embodied hard-nosed smash mouth football more than Mike Ditka. Ditka was an All-American in 1960 and led the Panthers in receiving three consecutive seasons. His number 89 has been retired by Pitt and Ditka was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and named to Sports Illustrated’s NCAA All-Century Team.
In turning to the offensive line, 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 and was one of the greatest offensive tackles in college football history. Like Ditka, Fralic was also named to the Sports Illustrated NCAA All-Century Team and was inducted into 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’re one of the very few to have your uniform retired by your university, you should be on your school’s all-time team.
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.
Pitt has had some outstanding centers in their history, 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’ve 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.
In a city that appreciates defensive football, Pitt fans in the ‘70s witnessed a player for the ages. At defensive end is one of the best in college football history, Hugh Green, a three-time All-American and an unstoppable force, he finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 1980. That year Green 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.
The other defensive end is Green’s teammate Rickey Jackson. Jackson was a terrific player in his own right during Pitt’s glory days. 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.
At defensive tackle the choices are two All-Americans Randy Holloway and Gary Burley. Holloway was All-American in 1977 and Burley was one in 1974. Holloway is second all-time on Pitt’s sack list with 33.5 sacks. Burley anchored Pitt’s defensive line providing strength and quickness against the run, elevating Johnny Majors’ defense in Pitt’s ascent to college football prominence.
At linebacker for Pitt, a troika 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. Jerry Olsavsky had a nose for the football.
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’s third all-time in career tackles at Pitt with 433.
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.
At one safety spot is Pitt’s all-time interception leader Bob Jury. Jury, who picked off 21 passes while at Pitt, 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 their arch-rival, 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.
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% as well as the school record for career field goals made with 50.
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 All-American in 1990.
The choice for kick returner is Hank Poteat. Poteat holds the school record for most yards on kickoff returns for a single-season as well as for a career.
Pitt’s all-time punt returner is Tom Flynn. Not only was Flynn a ball hawking safety but his sure hands and athletic ability let him become Pitt’s leader in career punt return yardage.
There you have it, Pitt’s all-time team, and even though Pitt hasn’t had a return to their glory days of the mid ‘70s to the early ‘80s, they have as many members of their all-time team in the upper echelon of all-time college greats as any other school in the country. For someone from the Todd Graham era to earn their way on to Pitt’s all-time team, they certainly have their work cut out for them.