Greatest Pitt QB Ever? Your Take…

Debate question:   How does the POV rank the greatest Pitt quarterbacks of all time?

Written by MissingWlat

 Reed reached out in seeking some POVers to pen an article or two during the downtime between basketball games. Due to a busy work schedule, and pending travel to Pitt to return my daughter to campus, my time is limited this week. So this “article” will be very brief and have zero journalistic quality whatsoever.

However, as I am sure is the case with many of you, the POV is very important to me. The friendships I have made over the past six or seven years, due to the efforts of Reed and Michelangelo, I value greatly. I wouldn’t say that the POV has ever teetered on the possibility of extinction, but the multiple transitions of leadership have this POVer willing to do anything necessary to make Reed’s job easier. We should all want to help keep him engaged for the long haul. Certainly, he has been very active in posting during the recent basketball games, which has been great to see.  

What I have learned over the years of reading the POV is that it doesn’t take a Pulitzer Prize winning article to get the collective blood flowing amongst the POV brethren. Heck, I could do something as simple as this: “Word Association: Cornhole. Discuss”, and I could likely keep the POV entertained for hours. Of course that would likely lead to several of you (See Tex, who is no fan of Cornhole Steve) breaking Reed’s “no swearing” rule. Even the beloved Ike probably wouldn’t have anything good to say about Smilin’ Steve.

I am sorry to disappoint you when I say that today’s POV debate will not revolve around everybody’s least favorite former Pitt Athletic Director. However, I do hope that today’s subject will spark some spirited discussion. Here goes…

I came across a website,, which contained a list of ranked former Pitt quarterbacks. To nobody’s surprise Dan Marino was at the top of the list. However, I believe the remaining list will elicit some discussion, due to the fact that every one of the top 10 on the list played at Pitt during the last 45 years. So while some of the younger POV members have not seen all of these quarterbacks, the bulk of the POV is familiar with nearly every one of them. Here is the list:

  1. Dan Marino
  2. Matt Cavanaugh
  3. Alex Van Pelt
  4. Nathan Peterman
  5. Tyler Palko
  6. Rod Rutherford
  7. John Congemi
  8. Pete Gonzalez
  9. Tom Savage
  10. Rick Trocano

The next five QBs in order are Darnell Dickerson, Bill Stull, Dave Havern (POV Tailgate Celebrity Guest), Pat Bostick, and John Turman.

After I reviewed this list and to give it some context I reviewed the historical statistics of Pitt quarterbacks and made some interesting observations. (Editor’s Note: Here are the current statistical leaders among Pitt QBs both past and present).

The best single season by any quarterback (Marino included) in Pitt history, was the 2003 season of Rod Rutherford. He threw for 3679 yards in 37 touchdowns. His yardage total was the highest in Pitt history, while the number of touchdowns equaled Dan Marino’s total from 1981. Rutherford’s passer rating that year was 157.4. Surprisingly, he only rushed for two touchdowns that season, and had a net total of 150 yards rushing.

The next two quarterbacks in line behind Marino (79 TDs) in career touchdowns are Tyler Palko (66 TDs) and Alex Van Pelt (64 TDs). Notably, all of the quarterbacks topping the career touchdown list played three or four seasons as a starter, except Nathan Peterman (47), who only played two. Had Peterman been at Pitt for more than two years, he very likely would have passed both Palko and Van Pelt. Had he been at Pitt for four years, he may have passed Marino.

The greatest single game statistically by a quarterback in Pitt football history was engineered by Pete Gonzalez. Pistol Pete threw for 470 yards and seven touchdowns against Rutgers in 1997 (admittedly his stats were padded by the game being an overtime win). Pistol Pete gets extra points in my book for beating WVU in triple overtime in 1997, 41-38, where he tossed the winning TD to Jake Hoffart.

That 1997 team was the first team with a winning record at Pitt since 1991, and was the first to go to a bowl since 1989 (I’m working from memory here… am I right: John Hancock Bowl coached by Paul Hackett after Gottfried left unceremoniously???). Pistol Pete led that 1997 team to upsets of ranked opponents Miami and Virginia Tech as well. (Editor’s Note: Correct in all areas – give the man a prize!)

The list does not include Kenny Pickett anywhere, due to him still being on the roster. I’d probably put Kenny somewhere between 10 and 15, although I absolutely love the competitor in him. If that were the criteria, he’d be third on my list behind Palko and Gonzalez.

Absent from the top 10, (and top 15 for that matter): Tino Sunseri. Beloved by his teammates, Tino is 3rd all time in yardage, but fails to even make this list. Hmmmmn.

Here is Wlat’s Top Five after Marino (be mindful that I was 6 years old when Pitt won the National Championship, so I am not qualified to evaluate Cavanaugh, Trocano or Havern).

  1. Tyler Palko (My favorite play in Pitt history was when he trucked the BC linebacker)
  2. Alex Van Pelt (Led us to the 31-31 tie at WVU when I was a Sophomore. I was there.)
  3. Pistol Pete Gonzalez (See above)
  4. Rod Rutherford (Bonus points for scoring the only TD in the 12-0 win against PSU in 1999)
  5. Nate Peterman (Yes, he had a surrounding cast, but he was pretty great)


P/S: This is a great article and thanks Eric. I am grateful for readers who have chipped in and so far the articles have been very well written with good discussable content. I’ll post submitted articles in between BB games. – Reed