Tony Dorsett

Anthony Drew Dorsett is the first football player in history to have won the Heisman Trophy, a Super Bowl, the NCAA championship and been enshrined in both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame.

Born in Rochester, Pennsylvania—25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh—on this date in 1954, he grew up in nearby Aliquippa, home of Pete Maravich [Daily Dose, December 22], Mike Ditka and Darrelle Revis.  Dorsett attended Hopewell High School, where he played football and basketball.  In 1970, he started at cornerback for the varsity football team, but the coaches did not think the skinny, 147-pound sophomore was big enough to play running back.  He removed all doubt the following season, taking a screen pass for a 75 yard touchdown in the season opener against Ambridge.  That secured him the starting running back position and he finished the year with 1,034 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns to earn a spot on the All-State team.  In basketball, he led the Vikings to the quarterfinals of the state tournament.  Dorsett set several records as a senior, including most yards in single game [247], season [1,238] and career [2,272] and was again named All-State.  At the end of his senior season, he played in the 1972 Big 33 Football Classic, the “Super Bowl of High School Football,” featuring the top players from Pennsylvania, and was heavily recruited by schools across the nation.

Wanting to be near home and have the chance to play right away, Dorsett chose the University of Pittsburgh, arriving in late summer 1973 weighing 157 pounds.  The first day of practice, he overheard a senior offensive lineman quip, “If this is the guy who’s going to lead us to the promised land, we’re in trouble.”  By the second practice, Dorsett had earned the starting tailback position.  The NCAA had ruled freshman eligible to play varsity sports the prior year, and Dorsett took full advantage, finishing second in the nation in rushing while leading Pitt to its first winning season in a decade.  His 1,586 rushing yards was the most ever for a freshman, breaking the mark set by New Mexico State’s Ronald “Po” James in 1968.  Dorsett became the first freshman to named All-American since Doc Blanchard of Army accomplished the feat in 1944, telling reporters, “I won’t say I’m the best back in the country, but I think I’m one of them.”  Three games into his sophomore season, Dorsett became Pitt’s all-time rushing leader, surpassing Marshall Goldberg.  As a junior, Dorsett gained 303 yards against Notre Dame to break his own single game rushing record.  As a senior in 1976, he led the nation in rushing with 2,150 yards, including 290 against the Irish.  Dorsett led Pit to a national title while also picking up the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Award and being named UPI Player of the Year.  Dorsett was a four-time All-American and finished his college career with 6,082 rushing yards, an NCAA record that stood until 1998, when it was surpassed by Ricky Williams from the University of Texas.

The Dallas Cowboys traded one first and three second-round draft choices to the Seattle Seahawks in order to move up and take Tony Dorsett with the second overall pick of the 1977 NFL Draft.  In his rookie year, he emerged as a starter, rushed for 1,007 yards and was named Rookie of the Year.  After Dallas beat the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, Dorsett became the first player in history to win NCAA and NFL championships in back-to-back seasons.  In his second year, Dorsett recorded 1,325 yards and scored nine touchdowns to lead the Cowboys back to the Super Bowl, where they lost to Pittsburgh 35-31.  His best season came in 1981, when “TD” rushed for 1,646 yards to set a new Cowboys franchise record.  He played eleven seasons in Dallas before spending the 1988 campaign in Denver.  At the time of his retirement, Mr. Dorsett was second on the NFL’s all-time list for rushing yards, combined net yards [rushing, receiving, kick returns] and most seasons with 1,000 or more rushing yards.

Only seven players in NFL history have rushed for more yards than Anthony Dorsett.  He gained 1,000 or more yards in his first eight NFL seasons, finishing with 12,739 and scored 91 touchdowns in 173 games.  Dorsett played in four Pro Bowls, five NFC title games and two Super Bowls.  He holds the NFL record for longest rushing play [99 yards] and a member of the Dallas Cowboys’ Ring of Honor.  At 5’11”, 192, Dorsett was incapable of inflicting punishment, so he developed an array of cuts, jukes and misdirection that left defenders grasping at air.  He ran a 4.35 forty-yard dash, could turn on a dime and displayed dazzling quickness and grace.  TD was one of the greatest running backs in college football history and, along with Marcus Allen, is one of two players to win a Heisman Trophy, Super Bowl, College National Championship and be inducted to the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame.  The football stadium at Hopewell High School is named after Dorsett and Pitt retired his Number 33 in 2001.

“Tony Dorsett is the best player I’ve ever been around.”– Joe Paterno, whose Penn State teams played Pitt annually