Hugh Green #99.
One of a very few retired football jerseys at the University of Pittsburgh.
HUGH GREEN was an amazing player, arguably, the most devastating defensive end in collegiate football history.One of the most complete packages of speed, quickness, strength and savvy ever to play the college game, Green started every contest but one in his four-year career at Pitt from 1977-80. What Tony Dorsett meant to Pitt’s offense, Hugh Green had made that much impact on the defense.
“Hugh has one speed: full,” said Green’s head coach Jackie Sherrill in a 1980 Sports Illustrated cover article. “He’s so reckless and so quick. Nobody in college football can block him.”Before he went on to head coaching fame with the Miami Hurricanes and Dallas Cowboys, Jimmy Johnson was Pitt’s defensive coordinator during Green’s freshman and sophomore years. He saw up close the type of devastation Green could create on opposing offenses.
“Whatever you ask him to do on the football field, he’ll do it better than anybody has ever done it before,” Johnson said. “You can build your entire defense around him. Heck, you can build your entire team around him. If Hugh Green is on your team, you’re automatically one of the finest in the country.”
In his debut against Notre Dame as a freshman in 1977, he served notice of what was to come by racking up 11 tackles, a blocked punt and two sacks against the eventual national champions.His mere presence could control an entire game, something the pro scouts noticed.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers scouting director Ken Herock said: “He was used like the MX missile, rotating from standup defensive end to all four linebacker positions, waiting for the proper time to explode. They disguised him so he could make plays, they moved him around a lot so that when the other team came up to the line of scrimmage, they’d say, `Where’s Green?'”
“People were petrified of Green,” Pitt linebacker Sal Sunseri said. “But they couldn’t run away from him because we had Rickey Jackson on the other side of the line.”
Even when teams did try to run away from Green, it was usually fruitless.
“I remember watching from the sidelines,” said John Brown, a sophomore tight end on that 1980 team. “He’d be lined up on one side, and the other team would run a sweep wide to the opposite side. All of a sudden Green would just fly across the field and the runner would just disappear in a big roll of dust, and then you’d see Green — with his eyes real wide — just standing over the guy. He was awesome.”
The rest of the country agreed. Green, Pitt’s all-time career quarterback sack leader with 49, won the 1980 Maxwell Award as college football’s outstanding player and the Lombardi Award as the nation’s outstanding lineman. He was the UPI Player of the Year and was second to South Carolina’s George Rogers in the Heisman Trophy balloting — the highest finish ever by a purely defensive player to that point.
Green’s career, not surprisingly, coincided with one of the best four-year periods in Pitt football history.The Panthers were 39-8-1 during that time, advancing to bowls after each season (winning three) with three Top 10 finishes. His senior season, the Panthers finished 11-1 and ranked second in both wire service polls and first in the computer ranking by The New York Times. Pitt also claimed its second straight Lambert Trophy, symbolic of football supremacy in the East, after defeating Penn State, 14-9, in Beaver Stadium.
Green’s number 99 Pitt jersey was retired in 1980 at halftime of his final home game, a 41-23 rout of Louisville.
“You could talk all day about Hugh Green,” said Sherrill. “I don’t think there had ever been a defensive player who played as well and as consistently from his first game to his last.”
Green was a first-round draft pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1981. He joined the Miami Dolphins in 1985 and would total 11 seasons in the NFL. Green was twice selected to the Pro Bowl.
In 1996, Green was selected for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.