1976 Pittsburgh Panthers football team

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1976 Pittsburgh Panthers football
Pitt Panthers wordmark.svg
Consensus national champion
Sugar Bowl champion
Eastern champion
Sugar Bowl, W 27–3 vs. Georgia
Conference Independent
Coaches No. 1
AP No. 1
1976 record 12–0
Head coach Johnny Majors (4th season)
Offensive coordinator Joe Avezzano (1st season)
Offensive scheme Veer
Defensive coordinator Bobby Roper (1st season)
Base defense Basic 50
Home stadium Pitt Stadium
(Capacity: 56,500)
← 1975
1977 →

The 1976 Pittsburgh Panthers football team represented the University of Pittsburgh in the 1976 NCAA Division I football season and is recognized as that season's consensus national champion.[1] Pitt was also awarded the Lambert-Meadowlands Trophy as the best Division I team in the East.

During the 1970s, the top-ranked team won its bowl game only three times: Pittsburgh joined Nebraska (1971) and USC (1972).


Date Time Opponent# Rank# Site TV Result Attendance
Sep 11 4:20 pm at No. 11 Notre Dame No. 9 Notre Dame StadiumNotre Dame, IN (Rivalry) ABC W 31–10   59,075
Sep 18 7:30 pm at Georgia Tech No. 3 Grant FieldAtlanta, GA W 42–14   43,424
Sep 25 1:30 pm Temple No. 3 Pitt StadiumPittsburgh, PA W 21–7   38,500
Oct 2 1:30 pm at Duke No. 2 Wallace Wade StadiumDurham, NC W 44–31   37,200
Oct 9 1:30 pm Louisville No. 2 Pitt Stadium • Pittsburgh, PA W 27–6   34,000
Oct 16 1:30 pm Miami (FL) No. 2 Pitt Stadium • Pittsburgh, PA W 36–19   42,434
Oct 23 2:00 pm at Navy No. 2 Navy–Marine Corps Memorial StadiumAnnapolis, MD W 45–0   26,346
Oct 30 1:30 pm Syracuse No. 2 Pitt Stadium • Pittsburgh, PA (Rivalry) W 23–13   50,399
Nov 6 1:30 pm Armydagger No. 2 Pitt Stadium • Pittsburgh, PA W 37–7   45,753
Nov 13 1:30 pm West Virginia No. 1 Pitt Stadium • Pittsburgh, PA (Backyard Brawl) ABC W 24–16   56,500
Nov 26 9:00 pm No. 16 Penn State No. 1 Three Rivers Stadium • Pittsburgh, PA (Rivalry) ABC W 24–7   50,250
Jan 1 12:30 pm vs. No. 5 Georgia No. 1 Louisiana SuperdomeNew Orleans, LA (Sugar Bowl) ABC W 27–3   76,117
daggerHomecoming. #Rankings from AP Poll released prior to game. All times are in Eastern Time.

Regular season[edit]

The previous seaon saw Pitt win the Sun Bowl over Kansas for an 8–4 record, highlighted by wins at Georgia and Notre Dame. The stage was set for 1976, with Pitt ranked ninth in the AP preseason poll, for the Panthers to make a run for the national championship.

In the first game of the 1976 season, the Panthers faced off against Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. A year earlier, Tony Dorsett had finished with 303 yards rushing in Pitt's 34–20 victory over the Irish. "They even grew the grass high," said Carmen DeArdo, a diehard Pitt alumnus, "and everyone knew Tony would get the ball." "They didn't let that grass grow long enough," Dorsett said later. 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.[2][3]

The season continued with a 42–14 win at Georgia Tech and a 36–19 win over Miami. The Panthers traveled to Annapolis on October 23 to face Navy and Dorsett broke the NCAA career rushing record on a 32-yard touchdown run in the 45–0 victory. Dorsett's achievement prompted a mid-game celebration in which even Navy saluted the feat with a cannon blast.[4] Pitt won a tough, hard-fought battle against struggling rival Syracuse.

On November 6, the second-ranked Panthers hosted Army at Pitt Stadium and won handily, but the significant action was taking place several hundred miles west, in West Lafayette, Indiana, where the Purdue Boilermakers held off the top-ranked Michigan Wolverines 16–14 in the closing seconds. The Pitt Stadium crowd erupted in celebration when the stadium public address announcer dramatically gave the final score from Purdue. For the first time in the modern era, Panther fans could legitimately claim, "We're number one!" Pitt defended its ranking in a close Backyard Brawl against West Virginia to go 10–0 heading into the regular season finale on national television against instate rival Penn State (7–3).[5]

At a packed Three Rivers Stadium on the night after Thanksgiving, the Nittany Lions scored first and held Dorsett to 51 yards in the first half; the game was tied at seven at halftime.[6] Majors adjusted for the second half by shifting Dorsett from tailback to fullback, enabling him to explode for an additional 173 yards as Pitt rolled to a 24–7 victory to cap an undefeated regular season.[6][7]

In December, Dorsett became the first Pitt Panther to win the Heisman Trophy as the nation's best college football player. Dorsett also won the Maxwell Award, the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award, and was named UPI Player of the Year. He led the nation in rushing with 1,948 yards and was selected as an All-American. Dorsett finished his college career with 6,082 total rushing yards, then an NCAA record for career rushing.

Sugar Bowl[edit]

The 11–0 Panthers accepted an invitation to the Sugar Bowl to face second-ranked Georgia. Pitt defeated the Bulldogs 27–3 and was voted number one by both the Associated Press and Coaches polls, claiming their ninth national championship.[8] This was Pitt's first undefeated national championship since 1937. The American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) named Majors the 1976 Coach of the Year. Following this historic season, Majors returned to his alma mater, the University of Tennessee, to take the head coaching job.[9]

Game summaries[edit]

#11 Notre Dame[edit]

Georgia Tech[edit]




Miami (FL)[edit]




West Virginia[edit]

Penn State[edit]

Penn State at Pittsburgh
1 234Total
Nittany Lions 7 000 7
#1 Panthers 0 7710 24
Overall record Last meeting Result
35–36–3 1975 PSU, 7–6

#5 Georgia (Sugar Bowl)[edit]

Sugar Bowl
1 234Total
#1 Panthers 7 1433 27
#5 Bulldogs 0 030 3
Overall record Last meeting Result
2–0 1975 PITT, 19–9
Kiosk in the Great Hall at Heinz Field celebrating Pitt's 1976 national championship


1976 Pittsburgh Panthers football team roster
Players Coaches
Pos. # Name Class
C 67 Tom Brzoza Jr
QB 12 Matt Cavanaugh Jr
TE 81 James Corbett Sr
RB 33 Tony Dorsett Sr
WR 24 Gordon Jones So
WR 19 Randy Reutershan Jr
WR 29 Willie Taylor Jr
Pos. # Name Class
LB 55 Al Chesley So
DT 75 Ed Gallagher So
DE 70 Randy Holloway Jr
DE 60 Cecil Johnson Sr
CB 31 Bob Jury Jr
DT 78 David Logan So
DT 68 Don Parrish Sr
DE 91 Al Romano Sr
CB 21 J.C. Wilson Jr
Special teams
Pos. # Name Class
P 41 Larry Swider Sr
Head coach
Coordinators/assistant coaches

  • (C) Team captain
  • (S) Suspended
  • (I) Ineligible
  • Injured Injured
  • Redshirt Redshirt

Coaching staff[edit]

1976 Pittsburgh Panthers football staff
Coaching staff
  • Johnny Majors – head coach
  • Joe Madden – assistant head coach/defensive secondary
  • Joe Avezzano – offensive coordinator/offensive line
  • Bobby Roper – defensive coordinator/defensive line
  • Bill Cox – quarterbacks/receivers
  • Jim Dyar – defensive secondary
  • Larry Holton – defensive ends
  • Harry Jones – offensive backs
  • Bob Matey – middle guards/junior varsity
  Support staff
  • Henry Lee Parker – administrative assistant to the head coach
  • Keith Schroeder – coordinator of computer scouting
  • Ray Olsen – graduate assistant
  • Dave Wannstedt – graduate assistant
  Strength and conditioning staff

Team players drafted into the NFL[edit]

Player Position Round Pick NFL Club
Tony Dorsett Running back 1 2 Dallas Cowboys
Larry Swider Punter 7 185 Denver Broncos
Jim Corbett Tight end 7 194 Cincinnati Bengals
Al Romano Defensive lineman 11 289 Houston Oilers
Carson Long Kicker 11 302 Los Angeles Rams
Don Parrish Defensive end 12 314 Atlanta Falcons


Awards and honors[edit]

A football signed by the 1976 Pittsburgh Panthers football team, including Tony Dorsett and head coach Johnny Majors.
  • Tony Dorsett, Heisman Trophy [11]
  • Tony Dorsett, Walter Camp Award[12]
  • Tony Dorsett, Maxwell Award
  • Tony Dorsett, led the nation in rushing with 1,948 yards
  • Tony Dorsett, All-America selection


  1. ^ Official 2009 NCAA Division I Football Records Book (PDF). Indianapolis: The National Collegiate Athletic Association. August 2009. p. 85. Retrieved 2009-10-16. 
  2. ^ "CNNSI.com - College Football - Heisman Heroes - Suzuki presents Heisman Heroes: Tony Dorsett - Friday August 25, 2000 01:29 PM". CNN. 
  3. ^ Gorman, Kevin (2008-10-30). "Pitt-Notre Dame series produces phenomenal performances". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Archived from the original on 2013-01-04. Retrieved 2010-04-29. 
  4. ^ "Tony Dorsett No. 1". Reading Eagle. (Pennsylvania). Associated Press. October 24, 1976. p. 77. 
  5. ^ Axelrod, Phil (November 26, 1976). "Pitt, State, maybe Tennessee". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. 18. 
  6. ^ a b Parascenzo, Marino (November 27, 1976). "Panthers claw Nittany Lions, 24-7". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. 1. 
  7. ^ Mackin, Mike (2008-06-12). "Let's Learn From the Past: The 1976 Pitt Panthers". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2010-04-29. 
  8. ^ "Yearly National Championship Selections: 1976 National Championships". College Football Data Warehouse. Retrieved 2009-04-15. 
  9. ^ Fitzgerald, Francis J., ed. (1996). The Year the Panthers Roared. Louisville, Kentucky: AdCraft Sports. ISBN 1-887761-06-3. 
  10. ^ https://www.pro-football-reference.com/draft/1977.htm
  11. ^ "1976 - 42nd Award Tony Dorsett Pittsburgh Back". HeismanTrophy.com. Archived from the original on 2013-10-04. Retrieved 2011-06-06. 
  12. ^ http://collegefootball.about.com/od/collegefootballawards/a/award-camp.htm

Further information[edit]

External links[edit]


  • 1976 Pitt at Notre Dame complete game video on YouTube: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3
  • 1977 Sugar Bowl, Pitt vs Georgia for the national championship, first half video on YouTube: Part 1