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June 15, 2013

Countdown to Labor Day: 79

The countdown to the start of the 2013 season is under way, as Pitt is 79 days away from its Labor Day opener against Florida State at Heinz Field. Panther-Lair.com is counting down the days until the biggest season opener in recent memory.

Today's number is 79, so we're looking at the player who made the decision to retire that jersey number an easy one.

Only a handful of Pitt players have been selected to the College Football Hall of Fame (21, to be exact), fewer have been multiple All-America selections during their careers (11 have earned that honor), and even fewer still have had their numbers retired by Pitt (there are 6 of those).

But only one player fits all three of those categories and holds a distinction that no other Pitt player has or will match:

This player was so dominant at his position that a new stat was "created" to quantify his exceptional play.

The player in question? None other than Bill Fralic, whose No. 79 jersey was retired at halftime of his final home game in 1984, a fitting tribute to the outstanding career he had in four years as a Panther.

There's really no limit to the superlatives that can be attached to Fralic's time at Pitt. He was a three-time All-American; only one Panther has more All-America honors - Tony Dorsett has four - and only two others - Hugh Green and Robert Peck - were three-time honorees. But Fralic went above what Peck and Dorsett accomplished when two of his All-America selections were unanimous (1983 and 1984). He and Green are the only two Pitt players in school history to earn multiple unanimous All-America selections.

Fralic was a four-year starter at offensive tackle for Pitt, stepping in as a freshman to replace 1980 Outland Trophy winner Mark May. Fralic never won the Outland Trophy like May did, but nobody ever created a stat for May; in 1984, the Pitt Sports Information Office conceived of the "pancake," a way to track the number of times Fralic laid out a defensive player in a game.

The respect and awe for Fralic wasn't limited to the Pitt SID. He finished in the top ten on the Heisman Trophy ballot twice during his career, the first time an offensive lineman had two top-ten finishes.

After he finished his Pitt career, Fralic was selected by the Atlanta Falcons with second pick of the 1985 NFL Draft. He played nine seasons in the pros - eight with the Falcons and a final year with the Detroit Lions - and was selected to the Pro Bowl four times (1987-90). He retired after the 1983 season and was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1998.

Previous entries in the Countdown

Countdown: 80 - The greatest non-championship team in Pitt history
Countdown: 81 - A crushing end to a great season
Countdown: 82 - The dawn of the Foge Era
Countdown: 83 - The most accurate kicker in Pitt history
Countdown: 84 - Pitt in the Pro Bowl
Countdown: 85 - A play that will never be matched
Countdown: 86 - A long but unfulfilled play
Countdown: 87 - The final year of Ironhead
Countdown: 88 - Pitt's All-American tradition
Countdown: 89 - Iron Mike
Countdown: 90 - The four 9-0's
Countdown: 91 - The two longest plays in Pitt history
Countdown: 92 - The senior year of the most productive QB in Pitt history
Countdown: 93 - The only 9-3 season in Pitt history
Countdown: 94 - The statistical oddity of 1994
Countdown: 95 - A relentless player and his dominant season
Countdown: 96 - The biggest win in Pitt history
Countdown: 97 - A dominant current Panther
Countdown: 98 - A transition year
Countdown: 99 - Hugh Green
Countdown: 100 - A look at Pitt in 1913

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