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Dorsett and Martin: Rushing to Greatness

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Thumbnail image for Curtis Martin (Tony Dorsett).jpg

With the Pro Football Hall of Fame inductions this weekend, and Curtis Martin's enshrinement, we take a look at Tony Dorsett and Martin who left Pitt and became two of the most prolific backs in NFL history.


It seems ludicrous now, but two of the greatest running backs in NFL history were surrounded by question marks on draft day.

In the spring of 1977, some wondered whether Pitt's Tony Dorsett was big enough for professional football. This despite the fact that he had dashed for a major-college record 6,082 yards and elevated a once-moribund Pitt program into an undefeated national champion in just four seasons.

One man who had no such doubts was his college coach, John Majors.

Asked if Dorsett, the 1976 Heisman Trophy winner, could adjust to the more physical NFL, Majors replied: "He'll make the team the second day of practice. The first day is picture-taking day."

There were no skeptics in Dallas. The Cowboys took Dorsett with the second overall pick and the rest is "Big D" history.

The doubts surrounding Curtis Martin may have been more justified. Martin's career production at Pitt was rather pedestrian - he rushed for 2,643 yards from 1991-94 - and his durability was scrutinized.

Martin appeared in only two games his final year at Pitt due to an ankle injury. His only full contest that season was a spectacular 251-yard performance against nationally ranked Texas in the opener.

Still, questions persisted. Two rounds passed in the 1995 NFL Draft before New England selected Martin with the 74th overall pick.

He began to erase any doubts in his very first game. Martin rambled for 30 yards on his initial carry, finished with 102 yards for the game and scored the winning touchdown to help the Pats beat Cleveland, 17-14.

Both Dorsett and Martin rushed for more than 1,000 yards in their pro debut seasons. And both were honored as the NFL's Rookie of the Year.

Dorsett was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994. Martin received his "Hall Call" this year and will be inducted on August 4.

Many schools try to stake a claim as "Running Back U." Some base their arguments on draft picks, others on Heismans.

But only one school can claim two of the NFL's top 10 all-time leading rushers - the University of Pittsburgh.

Martin is the fourth all-time leading NFL rusher with 14,101 yards in 11 active seasons from 1995-2005.

Dorsett played 12 seasons and retired in 1988 as the No. 2 career rusher with 12,739 yards. He currently stands eighth all-time. 

Pitt has long been a fertile source of talent for the NFL. While the quantity of players the program has delivered to the pros is impressive, even more significant is the high quality. As the old saying goes, "It's not about making it to the league. You gotta make it in the league."

Dorsett and Martin definitely made it - all the way to Canton.

 

Top 10 All-Time NFL Career Rushers

Rank

Player (College)

Yards

1.

Emmitt Smith (Florida)

18,355

2.

Walter Payton (Jackson State)

16,726

3.

Barry Sanders (Okla. State)

15,269

4.

Curtis Martin (PITT)

14,101

5.

LaDainian Tomlinson (TCU)

13,684

6.

Jerome Bettis (Notre Dame)

13,662

7.

Eric Dickerson (SMU)

13,259

8.

Tony Dorsett (PITT)

12,739

9.

Jim Brown (Syracuse)

12,312

10.

Marshall Faulk (San Diego St.)

12,279

 

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