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July 23, 2013

Countdown to Labor Day: 41

The countdown to the start of the 2013 season is under way, as Pitt is 41 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 41, so we're looking at another versatile athlete from the mid-century Pitt teams.

This Countdown series has highlighted a number of Pitt football players from the 1930's, 1940's and 1950's who excelled on both sides of the field. Players like Billy Reynolds, Henry Ford, Warren Heller and, of course, the great Marshall Goldberg.

In the early 1940's, Pitt was led by another versatile athlete who was a star for the Panthers in Edgar Jones. Nicknamed "Special Delivery," Jones was known for making big plays like the two interceptions he returned for touchdowns in 1941.

One of those "pick-six" plays came in the seventh game of the season, when the 1-5 Panthers traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska, to face a Cornhuskers squad that was in its own slump at 2-4. Nebraska entered the game riding a four-game losing streak on the season but had beaten Pitt the previous two years. But Jones' interception return for a touchdown was the go-ahead score, and another interception in the waning minutes sealed the victory for the Panthers (a win that handed Nebraska its first five-game losing streak in the history of the program).

Jones set a Pitt record in that game with 132 interception return yards, and he led the Panthers with six interceptions in 1941. That was just one of the categories he led that season, as Jones was also Pitt's leading rusher and passer in 1941 and the team's top scorer.

Jones also made the record books with his scoring, as two of his six touchdowns in 1941 came on interception returns; that's the only time in Pitt history that the annual leading scorer has had two interception return touchdowns counting toward his total scores.

Pitt followed the 1941 win over Nebraska with a loss to Penn State and a season-ending win over Carnegie Tech, giving the Panthers a 3-6 record in the program's third year under head coach Charles W. Bowser (who was hired to replace Jock Sutherland). Despite the poor record, Jones received national recognition when he finished seventh in the voting for the Heisman Trophy.

"Special Delivery" Jones was selected by the Chicago Bears in the NFL Draft after his career at Pitt was over, but he joined the Navy and went off to World War II. In 1945, he returned home and signed to play with the Bears, but it was discovered that he had also signed a contract with the Cleveland Browns, a member of the upstart All-America Football Conference. The contract would have him join the Browns in 1946, and NFL policy dictated that Jones could not play for the Bears while being obligated by a contract to play in another league the next year.

So Jones sat out the 1945 season and joined the Browns in 1946, where he worked in the shadows of Otto Graham and Marion Motley. But the Browns knew Jones' value, and he as a key piece of the four AAFC championships that the franchise won from 1946-49. Injuries eventually led to his retirement, but Jones still made an impact, annually holding one of the best yards-per-carry averages in the league.

Previous entries in the Countdown

Countdown: 42 - One of the greatest
Countdown: 43 - Pitt vs. the 2013 opponents
Countdown: 44 - An unfortunate score
Countdown: 45 - The Rhino
Countdown: 46 - The great Bimbo
Countdown: 47 - A huge effort in a tough loss
Countdown: 48 - The highest-scoring game
Countdown: 49 - The sack master
Countdown: 50 - The winningest coach in Pitt history
Countdown: 51 - A kicking record
Countdown: 52 - The link between Goldberg and Dorsett
Countdown: 53 - The legacy of Henry Ford
Countdown: 54 - A "Corny" mid-century quarterback
Countdown: 55 - Pitt makes history
Countdown: 56 - Panthers in the Super Bowl
Countdown: 57 - A unique scoring title
Countdown: 58 - Another Dorsett record
Countdown: 59 - The rare 59-point game
Countdown: 60 - A record that won't be broken
Countdown: 61 - Pitt's longest-running rivalry
Countdown: 62 - The last touchdown against Penn State
Countdown: 63 - The No Bowl Panthers
Countdown: 64 - The most passes in a game
Countdown: 65 - The other 13-9
Countdown: 66 - A local star
Countdown: 67 - One-win seasons
Countdown: 68 - The most prolific receiving game
Countdown: 69 - One of the biggest plays in Pitt history
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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