Sunseri, though, is the Pitt leader and big-play man, as he showed only three plays after the Panthers had scored their first touchdown against Florida State. On third-and-10 at the Seminole 20, Florida State quarterback, Rick Stockstill, dropped back to pass. "That was another one I saw on the films," said Sunseri. "I knew he was going to go to the back coming across. I just waited in the middle and, sure enough, Stockstill threw it right into my arms." Sunseri, an emotional type, returned the ball 22 yards for the score, but was so busy holding it above his head that Stockstill nearly caught him from behind.
Sunseri is dedicated to football. Last summer, for example, he worked out with weights for 4½ hours a day. Every night he brings a few teammates to his parents' home, which is 15 minutes from campus, for dinner, and at least once a year he stages a hot-sausage roast for the whole team, with the help of his father, Anthony, a wholesale grocer who claims to sell more imported Italian food than anyone else in Pennsylvania. And, oh yes, he watches films. Oh my, yes. "My girl friend always says I must be cheating on her, because she never sees me," says Sunseri.
That girl friend might try checking Sunseri's dorm room on any given night; there she would see him and his three non-football-playing roommates—most notably a short, skinny psych major with glasses and a receding hairline who's known simply as Forehead—look at game films for two hours. "Forehead motivates me," says Sunseri. "We'll be watching and he'll point to some guy on the opposing team and say, 'He's going to get you, he's going to nail you.' Then I have to beat him up. Or else I pretend that he's the opposing player and we go at it." No one doubts that Forehead, too, is dedicated to Pitt football.
If Sunseri's interception return hadn't stunned Florida State enough, an 83-yard punt return for a touchdown midway through the second quarter left the Seminoles reeling. Panther sophomore Tom Flynn, one of Marino's roommates, took Stark's kick at the Pitt 17 and watched virtually the entire Florida State coverage unit fly right past him. "They were coming too aggressively," he said. "I saw a little crease in the middle, went for it, and all of a sudden I was coming through a tunnel." Even after the Seminoles intercepted Marino a second time and drove 50 yards for a TD, there was little light at the end of their tunnel, as they faced a 21-7 halftime deficit.
With two quarters remaining, Marino had already completed enough passes—eight of 17 for 115 yards—to break Pitt career records for completions (308) and yardage (4,219). "Danny's more advanced at this stage than either Joe [Namath] or Kenny [Stabler]," says Sherrill, who was a linebacker with both quarterbacks at Alabama. "He's the best pure passer in the country." Indeed, Marino seems to have almost everything going for him. He's 6'4" and 215, a poised dropback passer with experience running a pro-set offense and has exceptional ability in reading defensive alignments. Against Cincinnati, a 38-7 Panther win, Marino audibled on 50% of Pitt's plays, an astonishingly high percentage for a college quarterback. "He's a pro quarterback playing in college, really," says Bowden.
Marino came out firing in the second half and quickly put the game away. Twice in the opening 2½ minutes he hit Split End Julius Dawkins for touchdowns, covering 65 and 18 yards. The first came on a "66" route that allowed Dawkins to show off his straightaway speed, while the second was off a fake bootleg by Marino.
Dawkins, who leads the nation in TD catches with nine, had only 16 career receptions before this season. He traces his improvement to a week spent last June in Vidalia, Ga., on a farm owned by Steeler Cornerback Mel Blount. Blount had met Dawkins through a mutual friend and invited the Pitt junior from Monessen, Pa. to come down for a combined work-football-basketball seminar. In the daytime Dawkins learned how to pick peas and watermelons—"One day we filled a whole tractor-trailer with melons," he says—and in the evening he practiced pass patterns against his host with Blount's nephew doing the throwing. "I beat Mel sometimes," says Dawkins, "but I just learned so much. He gave me insight into the mind of a defensive back." With a name like Julius Dawkins, a guy has no choice but to play basketball, too. "They had a sawdust court," he says. "You ever try to dribble on that stuff? It was awful; it messes up your clothes, gets in your ears, gets in your mouth, gets everywhere."
Dawkins, who's 6'3", 187, may take as much pride in his blocking as his pass catching, and he doesn't like to miss an opportunity to spring a teammate loose downfield. With Pitt ahead 35-7 on Saturday, Thomas broke a counter-trap play for 44 yards, only to be scolded back in the huddle by Dawkins for not having taken advantage of the interference Dawkins was eager to provide.
Late in the fourth quarter, after Florida State had narrowed the score to 35-14 with an 89-yard touchdown drive, the B.T. Express burst through on another counter play. "B.T, get behind me. Hurry up!" instructed Dawkins. This time Thomas paid heed—and ended up with a 70-yard gain. "I got him the extra 25 yards," said Dawkins, smiling broadly at the thought. Six plays later Thomas took a pitchout from Marino and swept six yards into the right corner of the end zone to score the final TD and clinch the game ball.
There was—as so often seems the case with teams from Pittsburgh, no matter what the sport—a strong feeling of family in the Panther locker room after the game. "Last year we did it on talent," said Sunseri. "This season we're doing it on feeling, on love for each other." At which point he invited all the Pitt starters over to his house for a spaghetti dinner, "just for a little celebration." Of which there may be many more before Pitt finishes its rebuilding year.