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Smizik: 1980 Panthers rank among best

Thursday, November 02, 2000

When the University of Pittsburgh sets about the task of honoring Dan Marino at halftime of its game Saturday against North Carolina, no introduction will be needed. Marino is arguably the greatest quarterback in football history, a player whose accomplishments at Central Catholic, Pitt and in the National Football League are legendary.

But when Marino's 1980 teammates are honored before the game, well, introductions might be necessary -- although they should not.

The 1980 Pitt team, on which Marino started as a sophomore, has credentials to match its quarterback. It finished with an 11-1 record and ranked second in the nation and was one game away from all-time greatness.

A loss to Florida State, 36-22, on a sultry October night in Tallahassee, has deprived this team of being ranked among the best of all time. But there's no way to deny the fact that this team, coached by Jackie Sherrill, could have been the greatest assemblage of talent to ever play the college game.

Consider: From the defensive unit, all five linemen -- Hugh Green, Rickey Jackson, Greg Meisner, Bill Neill and Jerry Boyarsky -- started in the NFL. So did three of the defensive backs -- Carlton Williamson, Lynn Thomas and Tom Flynn.

On offense, all five linemen -- Jimbo Covert, Mark May, Russ Grimm, Rob Fada and Ron Sams -- started in the NFL. So did the receivers -- Julius Dawkins and Dwight Collins, the quarterback, Marino, and the fullback, Randy McMillan. The kicker, Dave Trout, also became an NFL starter.

There also were five non-starters -- underclassmen who went on to start in the NFL -- defensive linemen Bill Maas and Dave Puzzuoli, offensive linemen Emil Boures and Jim Sweeney, and cornerback Tim Lewis.

Additionally, middle guard J.C. Pelusi started in the Canadian Football League and wide receiver Willie Collier in the USFL. Others from that team who made the NFL were linebackers Steve Fedell, Sal Sunseri and Rich Kraynak, defensive lineman Al Wenglikowski, quarterback Rick Trocano, wide receiver Keith Williams and running back Joe McCall.

The team was so good that when Marino was injured midway through the season, it didn't miss a beat. Trocano, who had started in 1979 when Marino was a freshman but switched to defense in 1980, moved from free safety to quarterback and finished the season.

In the 1981 NFL draft, Green, McMillan and May were taken in the first round, Jackson in the second, Meisner, Williamson and Grimm in the third.

In 1983, Covert, Marino and Lewis were taken in the first round. In 1984, Maas was taken in the first round and Sweeney in the second.

That's seven first-round picks from one team.

Eight players, Covert, Flynn, Grimm, Jackson, Marino, May, Thomas and Williamson played in the Super Bowl. Williamson won three Super Bowl rings with the San Francisco 49ers.

Pitt outscored its opposition, 380-130, in 1980. In a game at Syracuse, the defense held Joe Morris, who had broken the records of Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and Larry Csonka, to 12 yards on 16 carries. In the Gator Bowl, Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers of South Carolina was rendered ineffective.

Williamson, a senior vice-president with the Waffle House restaurant chain in Atlanta, chuckled at that accomplishment. "That was easy stopping him. They were a one-dimensional team. It was no problem."

Trocano, a vice-president with Sequoyah Electric in Seattle, played professionally with the Steelers and Cleveland Browns.

"I remember guys being drafted by those teams who couldn't have started for us at Pitt," he said.

Williamson, a two-time Pro Bowl performer, said, "I remember that group as a very talented team in terms of quality athletes and people. The number of people who went to the pros validated the talent on the team."

Florida State was a quality opponent, and the Panthers had never played in as intimidating a facility as Doak Campbell Stadium. The Seminoles would go on to finish 10-2, their only losses one-point games to Miami and Oklahoma.

The Seminoles received superior performances from punter Rohn Stark, who continually put Pitt in poor field position, and kicker Bill Capece.

"They outplayed us," said Williamson, who was injured and watched the game from the bench. "Give them credit."

But the Panthers didn't go unnoticed. Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden, a man who has seen his share of great players, made this comment last year to Sam Scuillo Jr. of Inside Panthers Sports Magazine:

"I've said it many times, in all my years of coaching, that Pitt team was the best college football team I have ever seen."

Bob Smizik can be reached at bsmizik@post-gazette.com.

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