2 more Pitt players set to be inducted into HOF
CANTON, Ohio — The Pitt football program has endured a series of ebbs and flows since winning the national title 36 years ago. It flirts with rubbing elbow pads with the elite but routinely falls short.
It's a program still absorbing the blows of a coaching debacle as it transitions from the Big East to ACC. Pitt, too, is a program tethered to uncertainty amid a myriad of changes, including four head coaches in one year.
For much of the past three decades, the Panthers' losses have resonated more than their victories — save a stunning, 13-9 upset in the 2007 Backyard Brawl that derailed West Virginia's bid for a BCS title. And a program that boasts nine national titles has only five bowl victories over the past 30 years.
Yet, despite its shortcomings, Pitt's reputation has been bolstered, in part, because four former Panthers have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame the past three years, including two 2012 inductees — running back Curtis Martin and defensive end Chris Doleman.
Martin and Doleman view their enshrinement as a shining moment for a university that has eight Hall of Famers, tying them with Ohio State and Michigan. Only Southern Cal (11) and Notre Dame (10) have more.
“The university recruited great talent and high-quality people,” Doleman said Friday, prior to the Gold Jacket presentation at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “I'm looking forward to them getting back to that, but we do have some guys in the pipeline with Darrelle Revis and Larry Fitzgerald. Our inductions should be a great recruiting tool for Pitt.
“Secondly, considering the things that happened at Penn State, I wish they would use their alumni, particularly some of these Hall of Famers, to show these young kids (at Penn State) who are able to transfer that Pitt would be a good move for them. Hopefully, Pitt is somewhere in the mix.
“We need the growth and development to build back the program to a level where people will consider Pitt a dominant program.”
Bill Hillgrove, who begins his 39th season as the voice of the Panthers, is confident Doleman has the right idea.
“It has a lot to do with the coaching staff and their ability to convince players they can come to the university and win,” Hillgrove said. “It's even more a tribute to the university that it can attract these young men, like these Hall of Famers.”
Pitt had only three Hall of Famers — running back Tony Dorsett, tight end Mike Ditka and linebacker Joe Schmidt — before quarterback Dan Marino's induction in 2005 ended an 11-year drought.
Then, two years ago, offensive lineman Russ Grimm and linebacker Rickey Jackson had their images molded in bronze busts in Canton. It was a satisfying achievement for the university, mostly because Grimm and Jackson were in the same recruiting class.
While USC and Syracuse flooded the Hall with running backs, Pitt has a more diverse group.
“Pitt isn't Linebacker U or Quarterback U,” Hillgrove said. “It recruits kids of greatness at all positions.”
Pitt, though, didn't have to work overtime to lure Martin to Pitt.
“To be honest, Pitt won by default,” said Martin, who considered offers from Penn State, Notre Dame and Miami. “If I lived in Miami, it would have been Miami, but I could jog to Pitt from my house.”
As Martin and Doleman are inducted Saturday, Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson isn't nearly as in awe with their numbers as he is with their character.
“The thing that is so beneficial from a university standpoint is that our younger players can look and see what kind of people succeed at the highest level,” Pederson said. “They have become role models for everyone on our football team.
“It's what you hope for with all your student-athletes. Not everyone will be a Hall of Famer, but they can build a Hall of Fame life.”
Doleman and Martin were the consummate professionals, too. Their careers might be measured by numbers, but the little things they did were off the charts, their work ethic unmatched, Hillgrove said.
“There was never another gear for me,” Doleman said. “Practice like a champion and play like a champion — it hung in our locker room at Pitt.”
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7923.