Wannstedt was an offensive captain at Pittsburgh when the upstart Panthers went 6-4-1 in the 1973 regular season after opening with a tie and a loss under first-year head coach Johnny Majors. Pitt received a bid to the fledgling Fiesta Bowl, its first post-season appearance in 17 years, to face Arizona State, which was playing on its home field.
"We had a good time, obviously, too good of a time,'' Wannstedt said. "(But) it was a big deal. I think it was the first time Pitt went to a bowl game in nearly 20 years. So, it was a big deal, and with me being one of the captains, it was a big deal for me. And there were a lot of things that they set up for us out there at the Fiesta Bowl.''
Fantastic freshman Tony Dorsett, who ran for 1,686 yards that season, put Pitt on top almost immediately. Panthers defender Tom Perko recovered a fumble by Arizona State quarterback Danny White during the first play of the game, and two plays later Dorsett scored. But that was it for Pitt. ASU needed just four plays to get a touchdown from tailback Woody Green and added three fourth-quarter touchdowns to win, 28-7.
Dorsett ran for 100 yards, but linebacker Bob Breunig and the ASU defense forced seven Pitt turnovers. The Panthers blocked three extra points and picked off White three times, but he still completed 14 of 19 passes for 269 yards to lead the Sun Devils. Pitt quarterback Billy Daniels was 7-for-20 for 57 yards and three interceptions, as the Panthers dropped to 6-5-1 on the season.
"We probably overachieved as a team, because we really weren't all that good,'' Wannstedt said. "We were a solid team with a couple great players. Tony, obviously, made the difference. And we played a team that was real good. Arizona State, they had Danny White at quarterback. Woody Green, a running back. Bob Breunig at middle linebacker, he played for the Cowboys.
"A big defensive lineman. They had a lot more older pro players than what we had. We turned it over a couple times, and we just didn't play well. Frank Kush was their head coach. I remember going into that stadium, about 35,000 seats, and they pretty much were all Arizona State fans. It was their stadium.''
But that was only the first chapter for Pitt's new football era under Johnny Majors. Three years and Sun Bowl appearance later, Dorsett won the Heisman Trophy. And the Panthers were national champions.
No. 18 Pitt (9-3) and No. 24 Oregon State (8-4) play in the 75th Sun Bowl Wednesday at 2 p.m. in El Paso, Texas.
Sometimes, history has a way of coming full circle. So, this could be the beginning of something big for the Panthers football program.
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