When they shut off the beer taps, packed up the guitars and swept the floor after the last of the revelers had left Stage AE on the North Shore on Monday night, all that remained for Pitt coaches and athletes was this:
A lot of hard work.
Pitt has its wish. It’s in the ACC where it has unprecedented, long-term riches, solidarity and — maybe, someday — celebrity.
It’s a nice neighborhood in which to live, but can Pitt thrive in the ACC, especially in football and baseball? Difficult, yes, but far from impossible.
Everyone was reminded of that fact when Pitt announced it will retire wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald’s No. 1 jersey.
Believe it or not, attracting great athletes to the Pitt football program has been done before — over and over again. Fitzgerald is only one of nine Pitt greats to have their jerseys retired. If you didn’t know better, you’d never believe all these guys played at the same university. Here’s the list:
Dan Marino. Tony Dorsett. Mike Ditka. Bill Fralic. Hugh Green. Joe Schmidt. Mark May. Marshall Goldberg.
“To be mentioned in the same breath with some of those names, it throws you for a loop,” Fitzgerald said.
Four of the eight are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame — Marino, Dorsett, Ditka and Schmidt — and Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson boldly proclaimed Fitzgerald will become the fifth after he retires from the NFL.
No argument here: Fitzgerald has played nine seasons with the Arizona Cardinals, making 764 catches for 10,413 yards and 77 touchdowns.
For now, Pederson said, Fitzgerald is “the greatest wide receiver ever to play college football.”
Again, no argument. Fitzgerald played two seasons at Pitt (2002 and 2003) and scored a touchdown every 4.7 times he made a catch. I did the math twice just to be sure — 161 receptions, 34 touchdowns. Astounding.
Fitzgerald is a Pitt man and a Pitt fan. “I was 17 when I came here. I was a boy,” he said. “At 20, I left as a man.”
So, you need to consider his remarks in that light. But he is optimistic that Pitt football can succeed because of what the ACC has to offer and his faith in second-year coach Paul Chryst.
“They have a great leader in coach Chryst. He is unbelievable man,” Fitzgerald said. “He is going to get this program to the top of the ACC, I have no doubt, in a short period of time.”
His advise to the current Pitt players: “Continue to work hard. Be ready for great things.”
Fitzgerald owes a lot to Pitt and former coach Walt Harris, who recruited him and suggested he wear his high school number (No. 1) as a freshman.
“I felt like I had a big responsibility wearing it,” he said. “It’s never about the name on the back. It’s about the name on the front. You wanted to make sure you represented the university in the right way.”
Fitzgerald represented Pitt on Monday when the ACC held its welcoming news conference at the NASDAQ Stock Exchange in New York.
The market was up 0.92 percent, by the way. A sign? Pitt hopes so.