Pitt’s all-time team heavy on Hall of Famers
Pitt and Penn State are set to meet for the 99th time Saturday, and it’s the final game in Pittsburgh between the in-state rivals for the foreseeable future. Bragging rights, of course and as always, are on the line.
But no matter who wins Saturday night at Heinz Field, the debate over superiority will linger. Pitt fans will note a decisive edge in claimed national championships, and Penn State partisans will point to their school’s advantages in undefeated seasons and conference titles.
Two teams, each comprising former or current NFL stars who matriculated at Pitt and Penn State, were assembled by staff writers Chris Adamski and Jerry DiPaola in consultation with Penn State historian/author Lou Prato, Pitt historian/author Sam Sciullo, Pitt associate athletic director E.J. Borghetti and six-decade NFL executive and analyst Gil Brandt.
Here is Pitt’s all-time team:
Dan Marino only threw for 7 more career yards than Tino Sunseri (really, you could look it up), and he’s 2,670 yards behind the all-time Pitt champ (Alex Van Pelt, 11,267). But he is far and away the Pitt quarterback who had the most success in the NFL (61,361 yards, 420 touchdown passes). Sure, he never won a Super Bowl, and that’s the ultimate measuring stick these days for NFL quarterbacks. But no one had a quicker release and no one had a greater will to win at the position.
Tony Dorsett, Curtis Martin
Tony Dorsett and Curtis Martin are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which is the chief reason you reluctantly eliminate Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, who ran for 4,301 and 30 touchdowns in the NFL. Dorsett, of course, is Pitt’s all-time leading rusher and the first Pitt player to win a Heisman, national championship and Super Bowl and earn Hall of Fame enshrinement in college and pro football. But Martin was 10th in Pitt history (only 2,643 yards rushing in three seasons), but he ran for 14,101 yards and 90 touchdowns for the Patriots and Jets.
Antonio Bryant, Larry Fitzgerald
If anyone asks you what was special about the Walt Harris era at Pitt, just mention the names Antonio Bryant and Larry Fitzgerald. Harris recruited both of them and helped lay the foundation for Fitzgerald’s sterling (and ongoing) NFL career and Bryant’s eight productive seasons. Fitzgerald, 34, will take his 15,545 yards and 110 touchdowns into his 15th NFL season when the Arizona Cardinals (his only team) open against the Washington Redskins on Sunday. Bryant had two 1,000-plus yards seasons (for the Browns and Buccaneers).
No one but Mike Ditka can be considered here. Of course, he’s one of eight Pitt players who were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (only Notre Dame, USC and Ohio State have had more, by the way). Ditka, the first tight end elected to the HOF, went from NFL Rookie of the Year in 1961 to five Pro Bowls, an NFL championship with the Bears and a Super Bowl title with the Cowboys before coaching the Bears to victory in Super Bowl XX.
Russ Grimm, Bill Fralic, Mark May, Jimbo Covert, Mark Stepnoski
Hall of Famer Russ Grimm is a lock after playing 11 seasons at guard for the Washington Redskins. Bill Fralic, a tackle at Pitt, played guard for the Falcons and Lions and was voted onto the NFL’s 1980s All-Decade team — just like center Mark Stepnoski in the ’90s with the Cowboys. Tackle Mark May (Redskins) played in three Super Bowls, and Jimbo Covert (Bears) joined Fralic and Grimm on the 1980s All-Decade team. But what’s an all-time team without an argument? Buffalo’s nine-time Pro Bowl guard Ruben Brown deserves some love and honorable mention.
Chris Doleman, Tony Woods, Aaron Donald, Bill Maas
Chris Doleman went to eight Pro Bowls with three teams and, eventually, to the Hall of Fame with 150 1⁄2 career sacks. Tony Woods played in the NFL at the same time as Doleman and recorded 24 1⁄2 sacks and eight fumble recoveries — four in the same season (1991) with the Seahawks. Aaron Donald has been one of the NFL’s best defensive players since he entered with the Rams in 2014, and his recently signed six-year, $135 million deal confirms it. He has collected 39 sacks in four seasons at a position where it’s tough to get the quarterback. Bill Maas was a great player in the ’80s and ’90s (more of a run-stuffer). He had 40 sacks, but it took him 10 years to do it.
Rickey Jackson, Joe Schmidt, Hugh Green
Pitt’s eight Hall of Famers are represented on six positions, and two of those are linebackers Rickey Jackson and Joe Schmidt. Jackson played 15 seasons in the NFL, gathering up 28 fumbles, forcing 41 and collecting 128 sacks. Joe Schmidt played all 13 seasons with the Lions (1953-65) after he was selected in the seventh round of the draft. He earned 10 All-Pro designations while intercepting 24 passes. Hugh Green isn’t in the Hall of Fame, but he played 12 seasons for the Dolphins and Buccaneers after teaming with Jackson on Pitt’s 11-1 teams in 1979 and ’80.
Darrelle Revis, Charlie Hall, Carlton Williamson, Tom Flynn
Darrelle Revis retired this year after 11 seasons as one of the NFL’s great cover cornerbacks. He was a first-round pick of the Jets and left with 29 interceptions, including one he returned 100 yards against the Dolphins in 2011. Charlie Hall played for coach Carl DePasqua at Pitt before he was a third-round choice of the Packers in 1970. Safety Carlton Williamson was one of 12 Pitt players drafted in 1981. He went to the 49ers in the third round and won two Super Bowls. Tom Flynn’s best season of his five was his rookie year with the Packers (1984) when he intercepted nine passes.
PITT: Andy Lee, Fred Cox
Andy Lee is entering his 15th season in the NFL. He is that rare punter who was drafted (sixth round, 49ers, 2004), and he spent 11 seasons in San Francisco. He also has been with the Browns, Panthers and his current team, the Cardinals. He’s had only four of his 1,135 punts blocked while averaging 46.4 yards. In an era almost totally devoid of artificial turf fields and indoor stadiums, Fred Cox of Monongahela High School spent 15 seasons as the Vikings’ kicker (1963-1977), hitting 282 of 455 field goal attempts. When he retired, he was the NFL’s second all-time leading scorer behind George Blanda with 1,365 points.