It was there, among all that flying toilet paper, in front of all those crumbling human pyramids, on the same night and on the same stage that yielded the incongruous sight of Coach Dan Devine dancing with a facsimile leprechaun (the leprechaun wasn't incongruous, Devine's dancing was; condemned men don't dance), that Paul Hornung promised to "jump out of the press box if No. 33 of Pittsburgh" gained 200 yards against the Irish the next day. In the heat of the moment, this burst of confidence by the once and always Golden Boy of Notre Dame was cheered lustily by the pep ralliers crammed into Stepan Center. Had they given it any thought, however, they would have had to agree it was pretty funny. Notre Dame willing to concede 199 yards to one back in one game is not what you call a usual concession to make to anyone who invades South Bend with a football under his arm.
Except, of course, that the No. 33 in question is Anthony Drew (Tony) Dorsett. T. D. Dorsett. Dorsett the Hawk. Next Heisman Trophy Winner Dorsett. In the history of Notre Dame football it is not likely that any one player ever struck such terror in so many Irish hearts or clouded up so many Irish eyes. "Nightmares" is what Defensive End Willie Fry says Dorsett has caused at Notre Dame since 1973.
For current reality, only Paul Hornung can say how moist his palms got the next day, sitting up there trying to put some color in the Irish's own network telecast. But it is good to report that the 59,075 fans at Notre Dame Stadium, though a considerably more subdued mob than the one of the night before, were at least spared the sight of a plummeting Golden Boy. Notre Dame rose up and held Dorsett to 181 yards in 22 carries. Or little more than eight a try. Imagine. It helped that Dorsett was allowed to sit out Pitt's last two possessions, his presence not being necessary to assure the Panthers' 31-10 victory.
On a weekend of crash-diving superpowers (page 43), Notre Dame's magnificent depression and first opening-game loss in 13 years was not in itself the surprise it might have been. The surprise was that they had been at this same corner before, knew the license of the truck that wrecked them and still couldn't keep from being run over.
Devine said beforehand that the Irish had painstakingly reviewed last year's pain-making Dorsett films (a record 303 yards against Notre Dame at Pittsburgh on AstroTurf), and, among other things, put in enough tucks and folds on defense to offer Pitt "about 10 new looks." Not all just for Dorsett, but with him in mind. "We will be more aggressive," Devine said, "and less passive," and, by going through blocks rather than line gaps, Notre Dame hoped to force early pitchouts and keep Dorsett from getting outside.
To put the players in the right mood, the Irish coaches then took them to a private showing of The Longest Yard, a picture Linebacker Doug Becker said he could identify with because it shows ex-Green Bay Packer Ray Nitschke, as a prison guard, ramming his head through a wall. Becker said he could hardly wait to get at Pittsburgh for ruining the Notre Dame season a year ago (the 34-20 defeat was the Irish's third and made them so blue they spurned a certain Cotton Bowl bid), and that he was playing his favorite inspirational record for the occasion: George C. Scott's rendition of a George Patton speech. Becker said he particularly liked the part where Patton advised the troops to "grab 'em by the nose and kick 'em in the ass."
With gung-ho guys like Becker and Fry around, and talent galore, Devine said he believed he had "as good a defense as anybody in the country." He admitted to having added to it by robbing such players as Safety Jim Browner and Cornerback Ted Burgmeier from the Irish offense. When Pitt Coach Johnny Majors saw the length of the grass on the Notre Dame field on Friday afternoon, he said he thought the Irish might have added a little something there, too, in preparing for Dorsett. Majors said he had been in " Iowa cornfields that were shorter than this." He was told the field had been cut on Thursday. Keith Jackson of ABC said it was what opponents of Southern Cal used to call "The O. J. Simpson Cut." Which is to say, the lawn-mower was not worn out.
Naturally, or otherwise, nothing Notre Dame had or did mattered a great deal, except in the comparative sense (181 yards is bad enough, but 303 is a trip). Dorsett ran through grasping linebackers and undulating blades of grass with equal dispatch, inside and out, making breathtaking cuts—some he made after he had been hit—and getting the most from Pitt's excellent down-field blocking. The only time he was really stopped was when he took himself out of the game with leg cramps. He said later that he had worn a pair of elbow pads around his knees, "the kind [Quarterback Bob] Haygood wears, white and streamlined. They look pretty, but they were too tight on me. I had 'em cut off."
Dorsett's first run was a 61-yarder and came as an immediate rebuff of an 86-yard game-opening Notre Dame touchdown drive that, as it turned out, was all the real driving the Irish did. It was a simple dive play that Dorsett broke to the outside, from where the view suddenly improved, offering great possibilities. "I was trucking, and I had so many blockers they got in the way." He said it was "the kind of thing that builds my confidence. I'd read a lot about how Notre Dame was going to stop me, and here they were grabbing at me, and I was motoring and thinking to myself, 'Wow, maybe I will get 300 again.' Notre Dame has the big-name advantage, but it didn't scare me, and it didn't scare Pitt. If you let me get that kind of confidence, I'm really going to come at you."
By the time he had carried eight times, Dorsett had 110 yards. He never broke another long one, but his runs set up all but one Pittsburgh score. He had never had a better opening day (another negative statistic for the beleaguered Devine to toy with) and is now so close to Archie Griffin's alltime rushing record—5,177 to 4,315 yards—that he could probably get it on his knees and still rise in time to accept the Heisman.