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Johnny Majors was never one for lollygagging around. Down home in Lynchburg, Tenn., where Jack Daniel's is the most noted export next to ole Johnny, they used to say that when it came to speedy country tailbacks the Majors' eldest boy was like a blend of sippin' whiskey and white lightnin'—smooth with a good strong finishing kick.
Ole Johnny is 38 now and still doing his fast-stepping number. Take last December when, after five seasons of coaching Iowa State out of a bad case of the defeats, he took the Cyclones to the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, lost a 31-30 thriller to Georgia Tech, then hotfooted it east a few short hours later to begin another revival program at Pittsburgh, assuring everyone within hog-calling distance that he "would do anything that it takes to bring winning football back to Pitt."
The reason for Majors' sprint was that he well knew that in order to win he would need a TD—Tony Drew Dorsett, to be exact. Dorsett, an All-America tailback at Hopewell High School in Aliquippa, Pa., was the state's most sought-after natural resource since the discovery of bituminous coal, and less than 24 hours after he flashed into Pittsburgh, Johnny Lightning went mining.
The new Pitt coach cornered Dorsett and teammate Ed Wilamowski at the dining room table in the home of Hopewell High Coach Butch Ross. Over Christmas cookies and cider, Majors, a kind of backwoods Norman Vincent Peale on the recruiting trail, delivered a two-hour sermon that in essence went something like this: "You boys come to Pitt and you'll have the opportunity to be part of something new. You'll have a chance to be different, to be unique. You can play early. You can play before your home folks. You can play good ole exciting, wide-open, cow-pasture football. And, I guarantee it, you'll play with pride and enthusiasm. Yes, sir, you'll have a calling. You're not going to learn how to lose. You're going to learn how to...win!"
Recalls Ross: "I don't know what Tony and Ed were thinking but I do know that my wife was ready to sign up with Pitt right on the spot."
Nobody knew what Dorsett was thinking. He is so quiet that his full sentence is another's oration. Also, he was being gang-tackled by recruiters from 68 colleges and, he says, "going to all those big campuses and hearing the usual rap was getting tiring." Woody Hayes came around twice on behalf of Ohio State. Joe Paterno put in a pair of appearances, spiriting him off to a distant motel room on one occasion where, as Tony recalls it, he was all but promised the Heisman Trophy if he went to Penn State.
In the end, though, both Dorsett and Wilamowski, a strapping defensive end, signed with Pitt. Tony remains vague as to exactly why he became a disciple of Johnny Majors' Traveling Revival Show, except to say that the playing-before-the-home-folks line got to him a little bit. That and the fact that Majors came to see him 10 times while Jackie Sherrill, the new assistant head coach at Pitt, staged one of the most intensive one-man recruiting drives in history by visiting Dorsett three times a week for six months.
The clincher, however, just might have had something to do with the fact that for Dorsett the worst part of having to talk to all those recruiters at school was that "I was always missing lunch." Knowing that, Sherrill brought his 70-year-old mother in from Biloxi, Miss. to hand deliver a freshly baked rhubarb pie to the Dorsett home. "That pie was gooood," says Tony in a rare show of exuberance. "I had to fight my mother for the last piece. I'd like to get some more of that pie."
Was the payoff worth the pitch? As of last week, after a pussycat 1-10 record last season that was the worst in the team's 83-year history, the Panthers were 4-2-1 and growling. There are several reasons for this surprising turnabout, but the most important is little ole T.D. himself. "We knew he was good," says Majors, "but we had no idea he'd do so well so soon." Hurdling, whirling and just plain whooshing out of Pitt's pro I and slot I formations, Dorsett has run for 100 or more yards in six of Pitt's first seven games to rank among the nation's top six rushers for most of the season. In the rain against Northwestern he not only reeled off a game-busting 79-yard scoring run but ended the afternoon with a total of 265 yards rushing, the highest mark ever for a college freshman.
Harry Jones, coach of Pitt's offensive backs, was more impressed with another T.D. performance. "We were on West Virginia's 12-yard line when Tony took the ball on a sprint draw and there was this linebacker standing square in the hole. Tony put a move on him and the guy was grabbing air. Then up comes the safety for a clean shot on the two-yard line, and Tony showed him a little hip and the guy fell down he was so faked out. I swear that Tony went into the end zone without anyone even grazing him."