In honor of the 150th anniversary of organized college football, many outlets and analysts have taken a look back and recognized the game’s greatest players, coaches and programs. To that end, ESPN assembled an All-Time All-America team, and it placed four Pitt players on its first team. The first team includes 25 players, as does the second team.
Pitt led all programs with four first-team selections, and the ESPN staff noted the unifying theme of the 25 first-teamers was that “their presence on the field changed the game: how it is played, the expectation of a position, even how we watch.” Pitt's first-team selections included Larry Fitzgerald at wide receiver, Mike Ditka at tight end, Bill Fralic at offensive tackle and Hugh Green at defensive end.
Fitzgerald played at Pitt from 2002 to 2003, but despite his brief tenure, he found himself in the running for the Heisman Trophy in 2003 before earning a first-rpund selection in the 2004 NFL draft. He finished his collegiate career with 2,677 yards and 34 touchdowns on 161 receptions and is described by ESPN as “one of the greatest pass-catchers in FBS history.”
Ditka finished his Pitt career with 730 yards and seven touchdowns on 45 catches, and he led the team in receptions from 1958 to 1960. In his final year at Pitt, Ditka was a unanimous selection to the All-America first team, and he went on to become a Hall of Famer at both the college and pro levels of the game. He also distinguished himself as a coach with the Chicago Bears, winning Super Bowl XX.
Fralic was a unique talent who played at Pitt from 1981 to 1984. His dominant style of play on the offensive line prompted the creation of the pancake block stat, which tracks how many times a blocker puts an opponent on their back. In 1983 and 1984, Fralic was a unanimous first-team All-America selection and finished in the top 10 of Heisman voting, becoming the first offensive lineman to do so.
Green played at Pitt from 1977 to 1980, and during his time at the school, the Panthers went 39-8-1. In his collegiate career, he amassed 441 tackles, including 49 sacks. By 1980, he was widely regarded as the top player in college football and easily the best player at his position, and as a recipient of the Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Award and Lombardi Award, he was recognized as such. However, he was snubbed for the Heisman and finished as a runner-up for the game’s highest honor.
Pitt not only finished ahead of every other program in terms of first-team selections, it was also tied with Ohio State for most selections overall, as both programs finished with four. However, Ohio State had three first-teamers to Pitt’s four. Other blue bloods bested by Pitt included Alabama, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia, Miami, Notre Dame and Texas.
In addition, no players from Pitt’s two chief rivals, Penn State and West Virginia, were selected as members of ESPN’s All-Time All-America first team. Penn State had one second-team selection in Jack Ham at linebacker. However, West Virginia had no first-team or second-team selections.
ESPN previously ranked Pitt as the No. 33 college football program of all time during its review of the sport's first 150 years, and Pitt's four All-Time All-America honorees, who represented the school during the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 2000s, shed light on how great Pitt has been over the years and why it was regarded so highly in ESPN's program ranking despite middling play in recent years.