Five minutes with a legend: Tony Dorsett

Posted March 12, 2010 @ 11:53 a.m.
Posted By Mike Beacom

Few running backs were as dominant at the college level as Tony Dorsett was for the University of Pittsburgh in the mid-1970s. By gaining more yards than any running back before him, Dorsett, a four-time All-American, helped to lead the Panthers to a national title and won a Heisman Trophy. After the Tampa Bay Buccaneers opted to select Ricky Bell with the first pick in the 1977 NFL draft, Dallas traded four picks (one first-rounder and three second-rounders) to Seattle for the rights to the No. 2 pick. Less than a year later, the NFL's rookie of the year and his Cowboys teammates were Super Bowl champions.

After playing one season in Denver (1988), Dorsett finished his career with 12,739 career rushing yards — second most at the time. He rushed for 1,000 or more yards in eight of his first nine seasons — the lone season with less than 1,000 being the strike-shortened 1982 season.

Dorsett is involved in a number of things these days, including helping to promote a new fantasy football game that features the game's all-time greatest players.

You appeared in a national commercial for Miller Lite this past year. Your former teammate, Ed "Too Tall" Jones, was in a national Geico commercial. Do you see continued endorsement opportunities in this era for retired NFL stars?

There's no question about it. Players need to get connected with marketing firms because people are still looking for players from the past to market their products. I think some of the decision makers at these companies grew up with us, so they can appreciate us.

You're visible at Cowboys games and functions. Talk about the efforts owner Jerry Jones has made to embrace the Cowboys' great players and teams from past decades.

I can say Jerry is second to none when it comes to an owner from a professional franchise. Jerry provides the best for his players and tries to do the best that he can for the players from the past. This coming weekend, for example, a lot of ex- and current players have been invited to the big (Manny) Pacquiao fight at (Cowboys) Stadium. It keeps the players mingling with each other, which is a good thing. It tells us that he can appreciate how the former players helped to make this franchise what it's become.

As an NFL running back you left the game with more than 12,000 yards and a Super Bowl ring, and yet for many people the first thing that pops into their minds is your 99-yard touchdown run against Minnesota (1982). Does it surprise you that people still talk about that today, almost 30 years later?

It doesn't surprise me because of the platform it happened on. Back then, we didn't have all of these other distractions — "Monday Night Football" was the ticket. It's amazing, I travel around the country and people know exactly where they were at and what they were doing when that run took place. It's fortunate for me to be a part of a record-setting run that took place on Monday night … and everybody, everybody was sitting in front of their TVs, waiting to watch "Monday Night Football."

Ever find yourself in coach Tom Landry's doghouse in your rookie season (1977)?

Oh, yeah. Coach Landry had a way about players and if it hadn't been for some of the veteran players sitting me down to talk to me I probably would have become somewhat of a disruptive force and tried to get out of there. Fans were expecting a lot with all of the hoopla coming in — national championship, Heisman Trophy, etc, etc, second person picked in the draft. They could see flashes, and I could give them flashes, but they were expecting too much, especially from a guy who was a part-time player (Dorsett split time with Robert Newhouse during the first half of the 1977 season). Trying to learn the system, a big playbook … not getting to play all of the time I was down on myself and had pretty much given up. (Landry) called me into his office right before the 10th game and told me that he had expected me to be starting by now and I said I had expected the same thing. I told him I had pretty much given up on that season and was prepared to come back the next year, training camp, and try to win a starting position. He just told me to show a little more effort, to act like I cared a bit more, and that if I did he might get me in that starting lineup. After that I said, 'Coach, I wish we would have had this conversation 10 weeks ago.' They started me that 10th game in Pittsburgh … the rest is history.

You're involved with a company, Yesteryear Fantasy Sports, that has blended the great players of NFL seasons past with fantasy football. Talk about your role and what excites you about the game.

It's a way for fans to play fantasy football, and it can be played year-round. The neat thing about it is that you get to use players of the past — as far back as the 1960s. It's interesting. I was approached to do some things at this past Super Bowl and it created a big buzz. Proceeds will go to help the Gridiron Greats, and that's a charity that needs help. We have a lot of players that have gone through the National Football League and have had issues with health insurance and dealing with injuries, and this game is one thing that can help give back to the Gridiron Greats.

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