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June 25, 2013

Countdown to Labor Day: 69

The countdown to the start of the 2013 season is under way, as Pitt is 69 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 69, so we're looking at one of the biggest plays in Pitt history.

One month and a few days after blowing a shot at a national title with the crushing 48-14 loss to Penn State in the 1981 regular-season finale, Pitt took the field against Georgia in the Sugar Bowl with a chance to record a third consecutive 11-1 record.

But every time the Panthers took a lead - first at 10-7 and later at 17-13 - the Bulldogs answered, eventually taking a 20-17 lead midway through the fourth quarter.

With less than four minutes left in the game, Pitt took possession at its own 20. The Panthers drove over midfield before hitting the moment of truth: fourth-and-five at the Georgia 33 with less than a minute on the clock.

Faced with the decision of attempting a 50-yard field goal to tie the game or a shot at first down to preserve the chance of getting the win, head coach Jackie Sherrill turned to quarterback Dan Marino. For Marino, there was no decision to be made:

Go for it.

To attempt the fourth-down play, Marion and Sherrill went with a play they had pulled out of the book for the first time earlier on the drive. The play was called 69-X, a five-wide set with the backs and tight end on the line of scrimmage. The first time Pitt ran the play, Georgia dropped seven defenders and Marino hit running back Bryan Thomas for an 18-yard catch-and-run.

For fourth-and-five, Marino went with 69-X again. This time Georgia sent an all-out blitz, so the running backs picked up the rushers, giving Marino an extra second to drop back, set his feet and fire down the center of the field for tight end John Brown.

The pass was on the money, the catch was perfect, the touchdown scored and Pitt won 24-20.

Previous entries in the Countdown

Countodwn: 70 - The origin of Pitt's nine championships
Countdown: 71 - A good player in a bad era
Countdown: 72 - An All-American who became a dentist
Countdown: 73 - May Day
Countdown: 74 - A "groundwork" season
Countdown: 75 - A successful DL-to-OL move
Countdown: 76 - The 1976 national championship
Countdown: 77 - The last three-sport athletes
Countdown: 78 - An underrated pro
Countdown: 79 - One of the best
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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