Quarterback John Congemi heads a group of eight returning starters on offense, and the only real need on defense is a free safety. But the most exciting news from Pitt is that some number-cruncher has finally come up with a statistic for offensive linemen—a crunching number, so to speak—that promises to rescue football's faceless heroes from anonymity. It's called a "pancake" and is roughly equivalent to the prestigious quarterback sack: An offensive lineman gets a pancake every time he knocks a defender on his——.
An——is really what the new stat should be called, but they wouldn't print that in the newspaper, and publicity is the whole idea.
The demand for such a statistic is a consequence of offensive line coach Joe Moore's four years of success in the Pitt pit. Over that span every lineman who has started for Moore has gone on to start in the pros, which is why Dallas Cowboy player personnel development director Gil Brandt says, "Joe Moore is as good a line coach as there is in pro football." The Panthers have had a first-team All-America offensive lineman every year since 1980, and will again this season in tackle Bill Fralic, so the pancake stat comes not a minute too soon.
The line play has been so outstanding, in fact, that third-year coach Foge Fazio keeps heaping titles on Moore. In addition to his line duties, Moore is assistant head coach and offensive coordinator, and if Pittsburgh improves upon last season's 8-3-1 record, he may get the marching band to direct at halftime. "Joe Moore could make a ballplayer out of my grandmother," says another Panther assistant.
When asked his secret for building lines, Moore claims to have none. "We have a philosophy." he says with an impish grin. "No secrets." The keystone of Moore's philosophy is think small. No, not in size—the runt of Pitt's line is junior guard Mike Dorundo, who's 6'3", 252 pounds—but in numbers. Like the beer that gets by on one-third less calories, Moore makes more with less, rejecting the common practice of redshirting sophomores and hoarding 20 to 25 linemen. "We try to keep it down to fifteen," he says. "The kids don't get caught up in the numbers game with us. They don't have to wait until they're juniors and seniors to play, so they're highly motivated."
The rest of the Pitt philosophy seems to rest on the assumption that a lineman should be strong enough to roll back the stone slabs that are forever trapping Indiana Jones in crypts. The Panther weight-training coordinator is 26-year-old Buddy Morris, a 5'8", 210-pound minihulk who has said, "I want to be a house." Morris believes in free weights, rather than Nautilus machines, and preaches the virtues of squats to players obsessed with developing big arms and chests. "The legs are the most important part of the body to develop," says Morris. "You can be built like Tarzan from the waist up, but if you're built like Jane from the waist down, you aren't going to move anybody off the line."
The leader of Pitt's offensive line is Fralic, the 6'5", 275-pound senior who looks like Tarzan from any angle, although he makes so many pancakes he ought to work for IHOP. The Panthers are campaigning to make Fralic the first interior lineman ever to win the Heisman Trophy, which skeptics say is like entering a really great dump truck in the Indianapolis 500. Pittsburgh fans retort, "Hey, this is a really, really great dump truck." Fralic's physical gifts may be considerable, but his work habits are what inspire awe in his teammates and coaches. "His intensity is unbelievable," says Moore. "He won't go anywhere unless he has a place to work out."
Morris points out that the other Panthers feed off Fralic's intensity in the weight room: "Bill's the kind of guy who's going to grunt and groan, spit, scream, yell...and his eyes! During a set they get the size of golf balls." Sound crazy? Morris says, "You've got to be a little sick and a little crazy to get strong."
Pitt's opponents can reflect on that when they line up against the Panthers this fall. Those who aren't ready may wind up on their...pancakes.
Though he's a lineman, Fralic may make a run at the Heisman.