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Tony Dorsett #89

College Football Hall of Fame | Pro Football Hall of Fame
Pro Football Hall of Fame Induction Speech

In 1973, a skinny freshman tailback named TONY DORSETT from Hopewell High School in Aliquippa, Pa., began a career at Pitt that would lead to a national championship, the Heisman Trophy and individual acclaim as the greatest running back in the history of college football.

In his fabulous four-year career with the Panthers, Dorsett set or tied 18 collegiate rushing records -- more than any other player in the history of college football. He established the NCAA's all-time career rushing record with 6,082 yards, a mark that stood for 22 years. (His overall total at Pitt, including his yardage from three bowl games, was 6,526.)

He was the first major college back to compile four 1,000-yard seasons. He became the first freshman consensus All-American since 1944 and was the first sophomore ever named to the Playboy All-America team.

Pitt had finished 1-10 in 1972, the year before Dorsett's freshman season. As a freshman in 1973, Dorsett burst on the college scene with 100 yards rushing against Georgia in Pitt's opening game. During the 1973 regular season, he went on to rush for 1,586 yards, the most ever by a college freshman, while recording the first 1,000-yard season in Pitt history. He helped lead Pitt to a surprising 6-4-1 regular season and a berth in the Fiesta Bowl.

In only his 15th game, early in his sophomore season, he broke Marshall Goldberg's Pitt career rushing record of 1,957 yards. He rushed for 1,004 yards as a sophomore.

As a junior in 1975, he rushed for 1,544 yards in the regular season, including a memorable 303-yard performance against Notre Dame.

In the final seven games of his senior season, as Pitt was charging toward the national championship, he averaged 215 yards rushing per game en route to leading the nation in rushing with 1,948 yards. Having finished fourth in the Heisman balloting as a junior in 1975, Dorsett became Pitt's first Heisman Trophy winner in 1976. He earned 701 of a possible 842 first-place votes for an overall total of 2,357 points, finishing far ahead of second-place finisher Ricky Bell of USC (1,346 points).

The 5-foot-11, 192-pound Dorsett was a magical optical illusion, blending his 4.3 speed, supernatural acceleration and Houdini-like escape artistry with open-field cutting so superbly executed it tended to escape detection by the naked eye.

As teammate Al Romano once put it, "I hate to practice against him. Trying to tackle him is like trying to catch a fly."

One revealing measure of his greatness occurred late in his senior season against Penn State. At halftime, with the game tied 7-7, coach Johnny Majors decided to switch Dorsett, who despite scoring one touchdown had pretty much been held in check by the Nittany Lions in the first half, from tailback to fullback. Dorsett wound up rushing for 173 yards and scoring a touchdown in the second half as Pitt coasted to a 24-7 win. Dorsett finished with 224 yards rushing, and his two touchdowns enabled him to break a 30-year-old record set by Glenn Davis of Army. Dorsett scored 356 points in his four seasons, two more than Davis, the 1946 Heisman Trophy winner, had in his four campaigns as a Cadet.

"I didn't think they could run up the gut like that on us," said Penn State coach Joe Paterno. "I didn't think I'd see Dorsett at fullback. We just weren't ready for the unbalanced stuff."

Asked to describe Dorsett in more detail, Paterno simply said, "How many ways can you say great?"

Pitt head coach Johnny Majors said it differently.

"I could coach another 100 years and never get the opportunity to coach another back like Dorsett," he said. "I consider it an honor to be his college coach."

With Dorsett setting a Sugar Bowl record by rushing for 202 yards, Pitt went on to crush Georgia, 27-3, to become the first Eastern team since Syracuse in 1959 to win the national championship.

"We had accomplished our mission," Dorsett said. "I think back to those college days often, and I can't help but smile. I've never had more fun in my life. We were a part of history. We helped save Pitt football."

Selected by Dallas in the first round of the 1977 NFL Draft, Dorsett played 11 seasons for the Cowboys (1977-87) and his final year with the Denver Broncos (1988). He retired as the second all-time leading rusher in NFL history (12,739).

Just as he had done at Pitt, Dorsett took the NFL by storm as a rookie in 1977. He rushed for 1,007 yards and 12 touchdowns and was a virtually unanimous choice for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Dorsett would rush for more than 1,000 yards in eight of his first nine seasons - the only miss was the strike-shortened 1982 campaign which, ironically, saw him win his only NFC rushing championship.

His top production came in 1981, when he rushed for 1,646 yards and added 325 yards on 32 receptions. Traded to Denver in 1988, he led the Broncos in rushing with 703 yards. Injuries ultimately prevented him from playing after that first campaign in Denver.

For his pro career, Dorsett rushed for 12,739 yards. He totaled 16,326 yards from scrimmage. He scored 546 points on 91 touchdowns, 77 by rushing, 13 by receiving and one on a fumble return. Dorsett was a three-time All-NFC pick, four-time Pro Bowler and a 1981 All-Pro selection. He played in five NFC title games and Super Bowls XII and XIII.

In the 1982 regular-season finale during a Monday night game against the Minnesota Vikings, Dorsett set a record that may be tied some day but will never be broken - a 99-yard touchdown run.

He became the first player in football history to win the Heisman, a college national championship and a Super Bowl, as well as receive Hall of Fame enshrinement on both the college and professional levels. Dorsett received each of his Hall of Fame inductions in 1994.

He received yet another honor when the Sports and Exhibition Authority approved a measure to change the name of Martindale Street, which is adjacent to Heinz Field, to "Tony Dorsett Drive." The street was unveiled with a ceremony prior to Pitt's 38-7 win over Virginia Tech on Nov. 3, 2001.

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