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Oakland street would be better venue for Dorsett Drive

Monday, October 22, 2001

It seems unfair that Tony Dorsett is getting a street named after him on the North Side. Not unfair to Pittsburgh, mind you, but to Dorsett.

His street's in the wrong place.

Dorsett, college football's best player in the mid-1970s, the running back who led the University of Pittsburgh to the national championship in 1976, never wanted the school to move its games off campus.

But the games have moved. Pitt now plays at Heinz Field, and so Tony Dorsett Drive will run as straight as an arrow between this new football stadium and PNC Park. The ribbon-cutting is scheduled for Nov. 3.

Dorsett said he was "honored, humbled, surprised and somewhat embarrassed to be recognized in this way." But don't you think his name would more appropriately be attached to a winding street in Oakland? Had this four-time All American run only in a straight line, he never would have won the Heisman Trophy.

More to the point, it was on the streets of Oakland that Dorsett set records that may never be equaled. I am not speaking of the 6,082 yards he logged while running across college football fields. I am not talking about the fact that this is where he began the journey that would make him the only man to win the Heisman, the national college football championship, the Super Bowl and to be elected to both the college and pro football halls of fame.

I'm talking about that time in the spring of 1975 when Dorsett was thrown for a $1,145 loss as a result of scoring 99 overdue parking tickets.

"He's an All-American scofflaw," Angela Marasco, chief clerk of the city traffic court, said at the time.

Indeed, coming into traffic court just one ticket shy of the century mark, Dorsett put up legendary numbers. The Pittsburgh Parking Authority reported that 56 appears to be the high for outstanding tickets today.

"He would probably be in the hall of fame in any era with 99 tickets," said an awestruck Ralph Horgan, director of the parking authority. "That is an enormous number of tickets."

It should be noted that Dorsett's record comes with an asterisk. Several months after his court hearing, it came out that some tickets were earned by teammates who had borrowed Dorsett's ride. But he was a stand-up guy and never ratted anyone out, despite an impounded car.

What better way could the city say that all is forgiven than by making one of Dorsett's streets of blame his street of fame? Pretty much any street surrounding the late great Pitt Stadium would do.

Why not DeSoto Street? What did Hernando de Soto do anyway? Discover the Mississippi River? How tough was that?

I telephoned Steve Pederson, Pitt's athletic director, to pitch the reasons for moving Tony Dorsett Drive. He laughed in my ear.

"I think I'm going to leave it where it is," Pederson said.

Pederson was a high school senior in Nebraska, and so by definition a college football fan, the year that Dorsett led the University of Pittsburgh to the national championship. He remembers Dorsett as a guy "who just didn't lose."

Except in traffic court. People don't forget that record. The morning that Tony Dorsett Drive made the newspaper, George Yurgec, a Penn State alumnus from South Park, e-mailed this valentine:

"The only appropriate decoration for the street would be permanently expired bronze parking meters."

At the very least, Pitt should put up one of those blue historical markers near the site of old Pitt Stadium:

"In this neighborhood, Tony Dorsett inspired his contemporaries with unprecedented running and parking feats. Forget the Heisman Trophy. In the land of the parking chair, Dorsett deserves a throne."

Brian O'Neill's e-mail address is boneill@post-gazette.com

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