Against Navy last Saturday, Dorsett played with a back brace and a battered knee but still managed to produce when it counted. The key series came in the final minutes after the Midshipmen, led by Cleveland Cooper on land and Al Glenny in the air, rallied from 16-0 to lead 17-16. Then Dorsett, hauling in a pass, cracking up the middle, slicing off guard and turning the corner, went on a 26-yard binge in four plays to set up the touchdown that gave Pitt a 22-17 victory. Afterward, Majors said, "Tony had the poise of a senior."
With 105 yards gained for the day, he also had a maturing total of 928 yards for the season, which is already a quadrangle or so longer than any Pitt back has traveled in the past 44 years. Still, Majors and his staff are reluctant to overpraise their prize pupil lest it somehow, retard his already exceptional growth. It is hard to believe, in fact, that Dorsett is fresh out of Hopewell High until he blushingly reveals that his idol is that grand old USC graybeard, Anthony Davis, who at 21 is all of two years older than Tony the teen-ager.
Majors, who was an All-America at Tennessee and finished second to Paul Hornung in the 1956 Heisman Trophy sweepstakes, tries to talk to Tony tailback to tailback. "I remember when I first carried the ball at Tennessee." he says. "Right off I picked up seven yards. The next time I busted through for 14. So after the game I called home and I said. 'Daddy, they hit the same way in college as they do in high school.' That's what I keep telling Tony."
Trouble is, Tony does not always understand Majors' honey pot drawl because "it comes out kind of slurry." Like when the coach cautions everyone not to pop off about Tony or the young team's quick success. "I mean." he says, "I don't want the boys in Jack Daniel's country thinking Johnny has gone high on the stalk since coming east."
He says lots of sayings like that. So do the Southern members of his staff, especially when they are asked about one T.D. Dorsett. Does Tony, at 5'11" and 175 pounds, have the stamina to carry the ball 38 times, as he did in the Northwestern game? Instead of revealing that Dorsett was all-state in high school on both offense and defense, they say, "He's all knotty muscle. You couldn't pinch him with a tweezers." How quick is he? Rather than dwell on the fact that he has been clocked at an extraordinary 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash, they allow, "He moves faster than a small-town rumor." And will he someday be Heisman material? "Is a four-pound robin fat?"
Yet late of a night at the Black Angus cocktail lounge the Pitt coaches turn less evasive. "Listen." they say conspiratorily. " Tony Dorsett is the most complete young running back we've ever seen." Even Majors in a candid moment admits, "I'm slow to say it, but even without four martinis I'd tell you the same thing. He's the most exciting back I've ever seen. He has the most running ability I've ever seen. He's the best young running back I've ever seen—period!"
The kids up on "The Hill," a black section bordering on the drab steel-mill town of Aliquippa, already know that. There Dorsett is still known as "The Hawk" as much for his wide-eyed look as for the way he glides through the line. Last week, on the rocky playground where Tony and his three older running back brothers learned their moves, a ragtag team called the Mt. Vernon Destroyers broke off a free-for-all practice session to expound on the future of Pittsburgh football. "The Hawk is gonna be the best there ever was, man," said Dancing Dee Dee. "The Panthers is gonna be No. 1, too, man," said Big Bad Brent.
If and when that ever happens, it will be rhubarb pie all around.