Such would be the kind of fitting denouement long-suffering (but not always patient) Panther fans have come to think of as their due since the fortuitous casting of former All-America Back Johnny Majors as head coach four years ago—and the coming of Dorsett.
The Pittsburgh job was "the last one" Majors had thought he would ever want. Having decided in 1972 that he had taken Iowa State as far as he could, and being anxious to go further himself, Majors put an ear up. A single-wing tailback at Tennessee who had finished second to Hornung in the 1956 Heisman Trophy balloting, he naturally inclined it to the South to catch the vibrations of a big football school. When the Pitt job opened—it seems to have been perpetually open since Jock Sutherland left in 1938—he wasn't flattered to be called but sent his lawyer-brother Joe to investigate. Joe told him he "better come look into this."
Majors coached his final game for Iowa State in the 1972 Liberty Bowl on a Monday night, announced his new job in Pittsburgh on Tuesday afternoon and on Tuesday night was in Aliquippa, Pa. meeting Tony Dorsett for the first time. Majors has been influencing people and making friends ever since. In Pittsburgh you can scarcely bat an eye or turn a knob without catching his act. He has his own TV show, which is syndicated in three states, pregame and postgame radio shows, does television ads for Chrysler and has a twice-weekly radio show called Majors in Motion. A slim, sandy-haired man of 41, with a trim figure and facial characteristics remarkably similar to those of Gene Littler, the pro golfer, Majors does not come on nearly so strong in private. In his suburban home in Fox Chapel he has a nice-sized collection of books he has actually read ("At least the first 40 pages"), will shoot pool or play some tennis and has not cluttered the premises with the usual coach's memorabilia—trophies, framed game pictures blown up into oversized fuzziness, painted footballs, etc.
But on the job, says Pitt Publicist Dean Billick, "the Coach makes my job easier because unlike Chuck Noll [of the Steelers], who will do almost none of these things, Majors is an extrovert, an image man who's always out front." After the Notre Dame game, Majors was in the locker room doing his postgame radio show in the nude, telling his audience he was "more confident before this game than any I've had as a head coach."
Dorsett, of course, makes both Billick's and Majors' jobs even easier. A highly approachable 21-year-old who wants to be a sportscaster, Dorsett says he "likes to be interviewed" because "it makes me feel like somebody." He made himself so accessible the week before the Notre Dame game that he chalked up 21 interviews in a day and a half. He even answered calls at one in the morning. Alarmed, Majors put an embargo on player interviews for the rest of the week.
Dorsett was cornered in a car on the way to the airport after the game. He wore a handsome three-piece double-knit suit with matching green shoes and two necklaces—one beaded, one a chain. He said he made up his mind to be a great football player when he saw his dad come out of the steel mill in Aliquippa one day covered with grime. (It was his father, he said, who nicknamed him Hawk—or rather Hawkeye, but his teammates have contracted it—because of his wide-set eyes.) He said he had gotten off to a slow start; he was cut by a midget league football team when he was 12 because "they told me I was too small."
When Majors recruited him, Dorsett weighed 157 pounds—"and I think the coach was giving me something." Last year he played at 182 and is now up to 192. He said he used to be six feet tall, too, but lost an inch "taking all that pounding." He appears now to be a union of two different bodies—a smaller one from the chest down, a larger one with knotty muscles and a thick, yokelike neck from the chest up.
Though unmarried, Dorsett proudly claims fathering a 3-year-old boy named Anthony by his high school sweetheart. When approached on the matter recently by a UPI reporter, Dorsett said he had "waited two years for somebody to ask me that." Anthony, he said, was born on Sept. 15, 1973—the same day he kicked off his college career with 101 yards against Georgia. Until the boy's mother moved out of state taking little Anthony with her, Dorsett would bring the youngster to Pitt practices and into the locker room and sometimes to class with him.
While Dorsett piled up yards and put on weight, Majors made other significant changes in the Pitt program. He yanked the Panthers out of a so-called "big four" agreement with Penn State, Syracuse and West Virginia, one which stipulated that those schools would play with fewer scholarships than the NCAA norm and would prohibit redshirting. He also got extensive physical improvements (locker rooms, weight rooms, etc.). From 1-10 in 1972 the Panthers have gone 21-13-1 in three seasons. And instead of drawing 19,000 fans a game, they average 42,000. They will be on television twice this year.
At first look, what would naturally impress an old Pitt fan is the splendidly efficient, highly productive veer offense Majors uses and how exciting its stars are. The other running back, Elliott Walker, for example, played hurt against Notre Dame. "But when he's right," says Dorsett, "he'll break your back, same as me." But even more impressive against Notre Dame—neither offense actually made much of a stir after the first quarter—was the Pittsburgh defense. This previously undistinguished group was a swarming, stifling force, continually harrying Irish Quarterback Rick Slager and making life so miserable for his receivers that they coughed up one pass after another.