I take a special pleasure in watching Pitt lose.
Don't ask me why. I've been to plenty of Panthers games in my life. I made several treks up to North Shore through four years of my undergrad life to hear fake wildcat growls pumped through Heinz Field's speakers. I've watched the team fight through Backyard Brawls and embarrassing losses to MAC teams alike. It's even possible that I've directed more profanities at Dave Wannstadt in a single game in the Steel City than I unleashed during the entire Robbie Caldwell era at Vanderbilt.
But I felt no relief when Larry Fitzgerald finished a close second in the 2003 Heisman Trophy vote.
Fitzgerald lost his bid to become the second Pitt player to win the Heisman by a narrow 128 points when voters turned to Oklahoma quarterback Jason White instead. It was a decision that was contested then, and it looks more ridiculous now. While White was a solid college quarterback who thrived in his system and was surrounded by talent, Fitzgerald was the human cheat code that made a Pitt team helmed by Rod Rutherford relevant. White was a leader and a winner; Fitz was a once-in-a-generation force on the field.
Fitzgerald made the NCAA look like a Pop Warner league when the Panthers had the ball. He was the embodiment of the video game Create-a-Player that your friends refuse to let you use when you play against them. He was the rare reconciliation of talent and physical ability grafted onto a kid who wasn't even out of his teens yet. Fitzgerald didn't just play in games at Pitt; he straight up dominated them.
He had eight games with 120 yards or more receiving as a sophomore, despite being subject to constant double teams after the first two weeks of the season. He had 22 touchdowns through his first 12 games and rolled into Heisman voting with an 18-game scoring streak. Defenses didn't prepare to play Pitt that year - they prepared to face Larry.
The sophomore was so amazing that he made guys like Rutherford and Princell Brockenbrough look good. He carried a Pitt team that realistically should have gone 3-9 to an 8-5 record and 10 weeks in the top 25. He made "close your eyes and throw it high" a realistic option for Pitt QBs every time the Panthers' offensive line broke down in front of them.
In the end, Fitz was punished for his youth and his spot on an underwhelming Panther team. Not many Heisman winners have come from teams that lost regular season games to Toledo. None have ever been sophomores. So, when it came down to it, the old guard voted in Jason White. The same Jason White who had been outplayed by the immortal Ell Roberson in the Big 12 title game days earlier, effectively eliminating the Sooners from national title contention.
So yeah, Larry Fitzgerald got screwed on that one.
But don't take my word for it. Here's what NumberFire CEO and totally-not-a-Pitt-fan Nik Bonaddio had to say about the legendary Fitz:
He played much like Wesley Snipes' character in "Major League," Larry hit like Mays and ran like Hayes.Anyone who could put up 100 catches with Rod Rutherford at QB and Yogi Roth as the other flanker should have made true Beano Cook's prophecy of multiple Heismans.10:06 AM Additionally, he, along with Tony Siragusa, are the only people in Pitt history to successfully finish a large order of fries from the O.10:07 AM He was so good that he went back in time and pinch-hit for Bill Mazeroski, hitting an even more dramatic home run that had the butterfly effect of keeping Barry Bonds in the city, spurring the Pirates to an unprecedented string of success in the 1990s.No, but seriously, he was totally absurd.Without him, Walt Harris went to Stanford and lost to UC-Davisand I'm pretty sure he manages a Denny's near the Allegheny County Airport now.
There you have it. The biggest Heisman snub of all time? The man who has become the prototype for modern receivers. But don't worry Fitz, AoG stands behind you. Ultimately, that's got to mean more than a Heisman.
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