Punter Andy Lee will be the latest former Panther to play in the Super Bowl when his San Francisco 49ers face the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday. E.J. Borghetti reflects on the impressive NFL career Lee has enjoyed since his Pitt days.
Discussions on Pitt's premier performers in the National Football League typically focus on receiver Larry Fitzgerald and cornerback Darrelle Revis.
That's understandable. Fitzgerald, who played in his seventh Pro Bowl this past weekend, is widely considered the game's elite pass catcher. (Please, Arizona, find No. 11 a quarterback this year!)
Revis, when healthy, can stake a claim to being the best defensive player in the NFL. He defines the term shutdown corner and will also smack you in the chops on run support.
In short, both men will add to Pitt's Hall-of-Famer wing in Canton someday.
But in the bright spotlight of Super Bowl week, another former Panther should get his due as one of the NFL's very best - San Francisco punter Andy Lee.
Now in his ninth pro season, each played in the City by the Bay, Lee is truly one of the finest at his craft.
A three-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro, Lee averaged 48.1 yards per punt this year in helping the 49ers claim their first NFC title since 1994. He had a 43.2-yard net average and placed 36 punts inside the 20. Lee posted this impressive production despite suffering a broken thumb in Week 1.
Prior to the 2012 season, San Francisco signed Lee to a six-year contract extension. In making the announcement, 49ers general manager Trent Baalke called Lee, "one of the top players in the game at his position" and "a valued member of our organization and community."
Added head coach Jim Harbaugh in assessing Lee's impact, "It's underestimated, probably, to be honest with you. Andy is one of those guys that wins games for our football team."
During his 2011 All-Pro campaign, Lee set the NFL single-season record for net punting average (44.0), while his gross average (50.9) ranked third in NFL history.
Statistical evidence reinforces the notion he is the best punter in San Francisco history. He holds franchise records in every major punting category.
Lee's success comes as no surprise to those who watched him at Pitt from 2000-03. He twice received the Big East Special Teams Player of the Year award, becoming the first player in the league's history to earn back-to-back Player of the Year honors.
As a senior, he led the Big East and ranked 12th nationally with a 44.1-yard punting average, the highest in the league in six years.
It was not an accident that Pitt boasted defenses that ranked among the nation's top 12 in two of Lee's final three seasons. He influenced the field position battle that much.
The Panthers went bowling every year of Lee's collegiate career, becoming a regular in the national rankings in the process.
When he steps onto the field in New Orleans' Superdome this Sunday, he will become just the second Pitt specialist to play in a Super Bowl. The other is placekicker Fred Cox, who played in four Super Bowls (alas, all losses) for the Minnesota Vikings.
Should San Francisco defeat the Baltimore Ravens, Lee will add to the total of 29 Super Bowl rings won by Pitt players.
And if the 49ers bring their sixth Lombardi Trophy back to the Bay, don't be surprised if Lee - as he has for nearly a decade - plays a huge role in the victory.Audio Link: Hear Andy Lee's interview on 93.7 The Fan