I was 15 years old when the Dallas Cowboys pulled off the greatest trade in team history (the greatest at the time, that is) and snagged the 2nd pick in the first round from the Seattle Seahawks. With that pick, the Cowboys selected Tony Dorsett from the University of Pittsburgh.
Dorsett was, at the time, the all-time leading rusher in NCAA history. He had just lead his team to its first and only national football championship. (Pittsburgh was 0-11 the year before Dorsett arrived.)
Here is the Wikipedia recounting of Dorsett’s collegiate impact:
At the University of Pittsburgh, Dorsett became the first freshman in 29 years to be named All-American (Doc Blanchard of Army was the previous one in 1944). He finished second in the nation in rushing with 1,586 yards in 11 games and led the Pittsburgh Panthers to its first winning season in 10 years. He was Pittsburgh’s first All-American selection since the 1963 season, when both Paul Martha and Ernie Borghetti were named to the first team. His 1,586 rushing yards at the time was the most ever recorded by a freshman, breaking the record set by New Mexico State’sRon “Po” James record in 1968.
Three games into his sophomore season, he became Pitt’s all-time leader in career rushing yards, surpassing the old record of 1,957 yards set by Marshall Goldberg, who helped Pitt to a national championship in 1937.
Against Notre Dame in his junior year, Dorsett had 303 yards rushing to break his own school single game rushing record. As a senior in 1976, he had a total of 290 yards against Notre Dame. He darted 61 yards on his first run of the season and tacked on 120 more by the end of the 31–10 Pitt win.
As a senior he helped lead his school to a national title in 1976, picking up the Heisman Trophy, the Maxwell Award, the Walter Camp Award for Player of the Year, and the United Press International (UPI) Player of the Year award along the way as he led the nation in rushing with 1,948 yards. He was a three-time first-team All-American (1973, 1975, 1976) and a second-team All-American in 1974 byUPI and Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA). Dorsett finished his college career with 6,082 total rushing yards, then an NCAArecord. This would stand as the record until it was surpassed by Ricky Williams in 1998.
Dorsett is considered one of the greatest running backs in college football history. In 2007, he was ranked #7 on ESPN‘s Top 25 Players in College Football History list. In 1994, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
On a personal level, I was at the height of my youthful enthusiasm for all things NFL and Dallas Cowboys. I was, from the age of football awareness (about six or seven) a dyed-in-the-wool, wholly-immersed, full-indoctrinated (thanks to two uncles) Dallas Cowboys fan. America’s Team had a stellar defense, known as DoomsDay II, a world class quarterback in Roger Staubach (himself a Heisman winner), a great receiver in Drew Pearson, and a solid offensive line.
What was lacking was a great running back.
I remember the first time I saw Dorsett on TV. I do not remember who the University of Pittsburgh was playing, but I remember his 300+ yards on the ground. I remember the friend I was watching the game with and I drooling over the thought of him in the backfield with Staubach.
But that was a silly dream. The Cowboys finished too well the prior year. They had no shot at Dorsett. He would be gone with the first or second pick. The Cowboys would not be on the board until pick 24.
Then came the trade! The Cowboys’ first round pick and three second rounders for Seattle’s second pick. Dorsett was a Dallas Cowboy!
Dorsett won the starting job his rookie season. He rushed for over 1,000 yards. He won Rookie of the Year. And he helped lead the Cowboys to a Super Bowl victory over the Denver Broncos. The dream was a reality.
Tony Dorsett became the first player in history to win a NCAA championship one year and a Super Bowl trophy the next.
He was the man. He was my main man, brother. For eleven years, I watched him juke and spin, duck and dive, break tackles, break ankles, break long runs, and score touchdowns. He was poetry in motion. He was beautiful to watch. He was a Dallas Cowboy.
He was ours.
Today, Tony Dorsett turns 59.
Happy birthday to the first truly transcendent running back in Cowboys history. Happy birthday to the man that made Sunday afternoons special for me for more than a decade. Happy birthday to the most beautiful runner of the football I ever saw…or ever will see.
Happy birthday, Tony.