Variety of players keeping Pitt's NFL touchdown streak alive
The streak started innocently enough on the day after Christmas 2010.
Miami Dolphins fullback Lousaka Polite scored on a second-quarter 4-yard touchdown run — his first TD in five years — in a 34-27 win over the Detroit Lions in Week 16.
Since then, a former Pitt player has scored a touchdown in 22 consecutive regular-season NFL weeks, the longest active streak of any college.
“It's something we are very proud of,” Pitt senior associate athletic director E.J. Borghetti said.
Eagles running back LeSean McCoy and Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald have dominated the streak, which took over as the NFL's longest when the record-setting 149-week run by the Miami Hurricanes ended in Week 11 last season. The second-longest active streak belongs to Cal (13).
“I knew we had a streak,” said Eagles backup running back Dion Lewis, who saved the day with a Week 17 touchdown last year, “but I didn't realize it was the longest one in the league.”
Titans defensive back Tommie Campbell, who played two seasons at Pitt before being drafted out of California (Pa.), extended the Panthers' streak last Sunday with a 65-yard punt return, and Fitzgerald added a TD reception.
With a touchdown this weekend, Pitt would move into a tie with Tennessee in 2003-04 (with Jamal Lewis as the main contributor) and USC in 1983-84 (with Marcus Allen leading the way) for the 23rd longest streak since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970.
In the past decade, there have been only five streaks longer than Pitt's current run — Miami (149), Texas (33 from 2003-04), Auburn (26 from 2004-06), Ohio State (24 from 2005-07) and Tennessee (2003-04).
Eight Pitt players have scored during the streak, from McCoy and Fitzgerald to Cardinals running back LaRod Stephens-Howling and Jets Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis.
“The truly unusual thing about the Pitt streak is the rarity of some of the touchdowns to continue the streak,” said Travis Smith, editor of Quirky Research blog, which tracks NFL touchdown streaks. “It required Lousaka Polite's first touchdown in five years to start it and Dion Lewis' only career touchdown to continue it Week 17 last year. Not to mention LaRod Stephens-Howling's Week 7 (in) 2011 and Week 1 2012 touchdowns.”
The TD streak is not an official NCAA or pro statistic but is followed by different sports statisticians and websites.
Players are affiliated with the college/colleges listed on their official Pro-Football-Reference.com page, which is why Campbell's TD was credited to Pitt, and quarterback passes don't count — sorry, Pitt fans, Joe Flacco wouldn't figure in anyway.
While Miami had a stable of NFL skill players, such as Clinton Portis, Edgerrin James, Reggie Wayne and Andre Johnson, during its nearly nine-year run, Pitt has relied on McCoy and Fitzgerald.
McCoy, who scored a touchdown in 13 weeks last season, has single-handedly extended the streak six times, and Fitzgerald prolonged the run three times.
Surprisingly, Stephens-Howling has extended the streak twice, with saving touchdowns in Week 13 last year and Week 1 this year in a win over the Seahawks.
“I was actually running on the goal line, and that was something that I don't think Seattle was ready for,” Stephens-Howling said of his Week 1 TD. “They thought it was going to be a pass. I'm happy to know that it kept the streak alive.”
The streak also was on life support in the regular-season finale last year, but Lewis, with McCoy sitting out the meaningless Week 17 game, scored on a 9-yard run with 1:54 to play in a 34-10 win over the Redskins.
“I'll never forget it,” Lewis said. “It was my first touchdown, so I was really excited. I made a cutback and was able to get into the end zone untouched, and it was a great feeling.”
The touchdown streaks can be fickle. When Miami's incredible run was snapped last year, Kellen Winslow Jr. had a TD nullified by offensive pass interference, and Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, Johnson and Wayne had byes. In the 100th week of the streak, Miami got one touchdown — Ed Reed's 108-yard interception return.
Michigan owns the third-longest streak since the merger, at 73 weeks from 1996-2001, but it was never the longest active streak in the NFL because it was entirely contained within a simultaneous 82-week streak by Big Ten rival Ohio State, which is No. 2 all-time.
Pitt's streak could be in jeopardy in Week 7, when the Cardinals (Fitzgerald, Stephens-Howling) and Chiefs (receiver Jonathan Baldwin) have a bye, or in Week 10, when the Eagles (McCoy, Lewis) have a bye.
“Even if it somehow lasts beyond there,” Smith said. “I can't see it going much longer.”
But who knows? Maybe Giants fullback Henry Hynoski gets into the act.
John Grupp is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.