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Matchup of Pitt-Penn State ‘fantasy’ teams would be close one

September 30, 2018

Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald hurdles the Steelers' Antwon Blake for a first down during the second quarter Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015, at Heinz Field.

NFL.com analyst Gil Brandt, the Dallas Cowboys’ vice president of player personnel from 1960-88, has scouted, interviewed, drafted and, ultimately, celebrated championships with some of the greatest players in NFL history.

So who better than Brandt to evaluate Trib Total Media’s all-time Pitt and Penn State teams, based solely on their NFL performances, and -- do we dare? -- pick a winner if the teams could match brain and brawn on the football field.

Of course, it’s an exercise in fantasy football, but Brandt played along, anyway.

“There are so many great players,” he said, noting a total of 14 Pro Football Hall of Famers. “I don’t know if there’s a definite way of saying who’s the best.”

But we prodded, and he came up with a winner. We’ll get to that in a minute.

Brandt was impressed with the teams we assembled, although he said he might have inserted Tom Rafferty at guard for Penn State. Rafferty, of course, played 14 seasons for the Cowboys, but he had stiff competition from Mike Munchak and Steve Wisniewski.

“Everyone thinks their own child is the smartest or the cutest,” Brandt said.

Speaking of Cowboys, Brandt also was partial to Cowboys center Mark Stepnoski, an Erie native who is on the all-time Pitt team.

As a sidebar, Brandt said he caught the ire of Joe Paterno after Stepnoski chose Pitt over Penn State.

“He said I was the reason that Stepnoski went to Pitt,” Brandt said, “because I was quoted as saying (Pitt’s) Joe Moore was one of the best offensive line coaches in college football. He was mad as heck at me and, as only he could do, he sent me one of those handwritten letters of his.”

Getting down to the business of picking a winner in our game of fantasy, Brandt gave Pitt a slight edge because of Dan Marino.

“The only difference in the teams is maybe Pitt has Marino, who I would consider just a little bit better than Kerry Collins,” he said.

But what a game it would be.

• Chris Doleman, who Brandt called one of the best pass rushers of all-time, trying to get around offensive tackle Glenn Ressler, even though their careers were separated by a quarter-century.

• Jack Ham trying to cover Mike Ditka. Their NFL careers overlapped by two years, but they never met in college.

• How about a Mike Reid vs. Russ Grimm matchup in the trenches?

In the end, we agree with Brandt. The teams are equal at every position, except quarterback.

Here’s how it might end:

With the score tied, 31-31, in the final seconds, Pitt wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald makes a leaping reception at the 2 on a throw from Marino, who somehow got the pass off with Dave Robinson in his face. But Fitzgerald is kept out of the end zone on a diving, shoestring tackle by Penn State safety Darren Perry.

With the clock ticking, Fred Cox rushes onto the field to kick the winning field goal: Pitt wins, 34-31.

Not bad for a 79-year-old man.

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