With the 2014 Pitt Panthers season right around the corner, Panthers’ fans can only hope that Pitt starts to make progress in starting to return the program to the glory days.
Things haven’t been great all the time for the Panthers, but the early 1980’s were some of the great times, capped off by a 24-20 victory in the 1982 Sugar Bowl against a Georgia Bulldogs team led by running back Herschel Walker.
Hall of Famer Dan Marino threw 79 touchdown passes while wearing a Pitt uniform, but none resonates with Panthers’ fans like Marino hitting a streaking John Brown in the last seconds of the game for the go-ahead score to knock off the previously undefeated Bulldogs.
In what still amounts to one of the biggest wins in Pitt history, Marino threw a short touchdown to Brown to take the lead 17-13 and then found Brown who beat his man deep and made a catch in the end zone to give Pitt the win in the game’s final seconds.
To this day Brown’s catch is one of the greatest moments in Pitt history and provided the Panthers with one of the programs most dramatic wins in school history.
“It’s like reliving the legend of the moment,” said Brown. “The play was designed to get the first down and we would have still had a little bit of time to try and do things. Georgia made the mistake of blitzing and all 11 people in the huddle knew exactly what they were going to do because of preparation. They were in man coverage and I just ran for the end zone. Danny read it. We read it. And if you take the drama out of the moment it was a play we ran 1,000 times. We just did what we were supposed to do.”
But while Brown ended up making one of the biggest plays in Pitt history, what many people may not realize is that it came on a fourth down and there were thoughts internally about kicking the field goal and tying the game.
That’s something Brown and his teammates weren’t going to settle for.
“The legend has it that Danny went over to Jackie (Sherrill) during the timeout and they were considering the field goal and Danny said we didn’t come down here to play for a tie. No one in that huddle was interested in a tie.”
While Brown may be known for his big catch in one of the biggest games the Panthers have played in quite some time, he’s also a guy who put together a very solid career from the tight end position for the Panthers.
Brown, who had a combination of size and speed, finished his Pitt career with 67 receptions for 780 yards and 10 touchdowns, including a junior season in which he hauled in 43 passes for 530 yards and eight touchdowns.
Because of his size and speed, opposing defenses couldn’t double team the Pitt wide receivers and having a quarterback like Marino throwing him the ball gave Brown plenty of opportunities to make plays.
“I’ve said many of times in the past that it was clear to me that in my opinion I never saw anyone throw a ball the way he threw it and with the confidence Danny did,” added Brown. “You know when you are coming in as a freshman you don’t know if you really belong, but having a quarterback like Dan to form a good relationship with right off the bat made it easier. We became good friends right away.”
Brown’s time at Pitt is viewed as some of the glory days of Panthers history.
During his career, Pitt went 42-6 while Brown was in uniform as he got to play for the legendary Jackie Sherrill.
“Jackie allowed players to play and coaches to coach,” said Brown. “It never felt like you were playing for Jackie as much as you were playing for your teammates and your position coaches. Jackie let us come and go and his biggest thing was don’t do anything embarrass yourself, your family or the University of Pittsburgh. He was a man of few words but had a presence around him.”
Brown came to Pitt after graduating from Burrell High School in 1977 where he returned to coach high school football for many years.
These days he spends his time trying to master the game of golf, but when any Pitt fan looks back on history, they can’t forget about Brown.
Especially what he did on that one magical night on January 1, 1982, where his game winning touchdown catch will forever be one of the greatest moments in Pitt football history.
“After all these years that have gone by, I just look back at it now and think about what a real fortunate time it was to be at Pitt,” said Brown. “I took a roundabout way to get there, but I was one of the Western PA kids and we had an unbelievable mix of homegrown talent. We had a bunch of guys who liked to play and liked each other. We had great chemistry and really just whooped everybody’s ass.”
Photo Credit: NOLA Times