It was at the University of Pittsburgh that the Salk polio vaccine was discovered. The school has also fielded nine national football champions, and so far no one has tried to devise an antidote for Panther fever. Bet the homestead no one will this year, either, for on these muggy summer days, Pitt fans are dreaming of 11 cool fall football afternoons in the offing, and daring to whisper that the Panthers have a shot at a 10th national title. What's more, they're talking right out loud about the wonders that will be wrought by the player widely believed to be college football's best, the Natchez nonpareil, Hugh Green.
This is the same atmosphere that was to be found on the school's urban campus before the 1976 season, when Pitt won its most recent title. Then the player was Tony Dorsett, the running back from nearby Aliquippa, Pa., whose achievements were not only spectacularly visible to the folks in Pitt Stadium but also were made known to the nation at large on television and in the weekly offensive statistics sent out by the NCAA. But this time the player of particular note isn't a hometown guy, doesn't score touchdowns and isn't even on the NCAA stat sheets. That's because Hugh Green hails from Mississippi and is a defensive end.
Conservative evaluators of college football talent say Green is the defensive player in what should be a vintage year for that category. Others proclaim that Green is so easily the best collegiate player—on offense or defense—that he has lapped the field. To Frank Broyles, athletic director at Arkansas, Green is "all-world." Syracuse Coach Frank Maloney believes Green's skills are so superior that "he just shouldn't be playing college football."
Maloney, whose Orangemen tackle Pitt on Nov. 1, has ample reason to want Green to be somewhere else. In the three years since Green arrived at Pittsburgh, Maloney's offensive-minded Orangemen have been beaten in all three games. The Greening of Syracuse isn't a pretty phrase on Piety Hill.
In college football—unlike the situation in the pros—a single dominating defensive player is enormously important because he controls strategy on both sides of the line. "In the pros they have this secret technique for neutralizing a great defensive player," says a top collegiate coach. "You may have heard of it. It's called holding."
John Marshall, a former assistant at Southern Cal who now is the coach of the special teams at Green Bay, says, "The value of an outstanding individual in the college game has to do with the level of talent. In college the players not only aren't as good, but the truly good ones are spread out." Oklahoma Defensive Coordinator Rex Norris says, "A great college defensive player dominates everybody he plays against. In the pros, there's a balance of super-players."
Thus, in college football a team not only weakens its own offense by double-or even triple-teaming a player like Green, but its own defensive game plan must take into consideration the fact that there can be no slipups; the offense can't be expected to compensate for defensive lapses. The result is often overcautious defense. In short, rivals are forced to alter their entire style of play, not just their offensive plans.
Says Pitt Coach Jackie Sherrill, " Hugh Green, with his maturity and his intensity, gives us enormous flexibility. Even on offense we can gamble more." The outlook is not entirely hopeless, of course, when a team finds itself up against a lights-out defender like Green, or Florida State's Ron Simmons, or UCLA's Kenny Easley (see boxes). "The other team does have a choice," Texas Coach Fred Akers says. "It can run away from him."
Fearless Lou Holtz at Arkansas prefers to go whole Hog. "A great player dominates and intimidates," he concedes. "You get so engrossed with handling a super-player like Green that you lose sight of how you're going to win. Actually, our philosophy is to run right at a great defensive player."
Does it work?