The name Marino comes to mind. Mike Ditka, Hugh Green, Mark May, Bill Fralic and Russ Grimm too.
They are all chiseled somewhere into the walls of the University of Pittsburgh football complex. All-time Panther greats having played for, well, an overall good college football program. If you want to go that far.
It's not being cruel this weekend to mention that one of the few things the Steelers and Panthers have in common is their stadium and training facility in Pittsburgh. But one organization going for its sixth Super Bowl title. The other having just finished above third in the Big East Conference for the second time ever.
Why the comparison? The Steelers are in another Super Bowl. The Panthers just came out of the Sun Bowl. The Steelers have been so great while the Panthers have been just ... okay. Part of it is living elbow-to-elbow an NFL signature franchise. The Steelers are the heart and soul of the city. The Panthers? Maybe the gall bladder of the city. Part of the town, certainly, but not as essential as the Steelers.
That's not a slight, just a dose of reality. You'd think after all these years, some of that excellence would rub off.
In many ways it has. Two-hundred eight-nine Panthers have played in the NFL. Since 1937, an average of almost four players per year have been drafted. Twenty-three have gone in the first round. Since '04 Pittsburgh has had as many first-rounders as Florida (three).
Pittsburgh has gone to major bowls and won two national championships (1937, 1976). Dorsetts (father and son) have graced its roster. But no one would call Pittsburgh a top 10 program today; maybe not even a top 25 program. Since that '76 championship it can be argued that Pittsburgh has been the Gallagher of college football . One tries to be funny and isn't. The other struggles mightily to be taken seriously.
Just when you think the Panthers are good, they aren't. Since 1977, the Panthers have only two more winning seasons (17) than losing or .500 seasons (15).
This is western Pennsylvania. Shouldn't things be better?
That's an obvious question considering the amount of high school talent in the area, even after Penn State gets done. There's another obvious question hanging in the air this week in Tampa as a certain dreadlocked receiver has captured the hearts and minds of fans and media.
Who is the only person to stop Larry Fitzgerald?
Answer: Walt Harris.
Except that it isn't exactly true. Pittsburgh went to two bowls and was 17-9 during Fitzgerald's two seasons on the field under Harris. Fitzgerald was doing the things you see now back then, just on a smaller scale. One handers. Jump balls. One of the best games I ever saw by a receiver was Fitzgerald's three-touchdown game against Texas A&M in 2003.
Typically, the Panthers had lost the week before to Toledo. Harris, like those before and after him, couldn't assemble a complete team.
Speaking for sportswriters everywhere, we love current coach Dave Wannstedt. Wanny will break bread, chat you up and call you if he feels he has a player worthy of All-American consideration. That's all you can ask of a coach. He's a Pittsburgh guy. Genuine. He knows the city, has recruited well. He's also lost to Ohio and Bowling Green.
The inconsistency boggles the mind. The argument can be made that the Arizona Cardinals wouldn't be in the Super Bowl without Panther representation. There is Fitzgerald. Middle linebacker Gerald Hayes was a three-time All-Big East player at Pittsburgh. Grimm is the Cardinals offensive line coach. Teryl Austin (1984-87) coaches defensive backs. Ken Whisenhunt came from the Pittsburgh staff to do the unthinkable in the desert -- lead the Cardinals to the brink of a championship for the first time since 1947.
Those were the days of Marshall Goldberg. The former halfback had his number retired by both the Cardinals and his college team. Yep, it was Pittsburgh.
It just seems like neither team has won a thing since.