Column | Pitt should retire Pickett’s number — just not right now


Hannah Wilson | Senior Staff Photographer

Kenny Pickett on the sidelines of the Backyard Brawl on Sept. 1.

By Brian Sherry, Staff Writer

The City of Pittsburgh treated its residents to an impressive light display last December. This light display wasn’t related to the holidays or even a Steelers victory, but rather, a Pitt student. The Heisman trophy, superimposed on the tallest building in the city, illuminated the night’s sky- along with the number eight. 

It seemed that the entire city united to support former Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett’s candidacy for Heisman. Pickett may have finished third in the final voting, but don’t tell anyone from Pittsburgh that. The former Panther dominated in his final year at Pitt, culminating in an ACC Championship and a New Year’s Six bowl bid. 

Pickett’s accomplishments put an arguably irrelevant Pitt football program back into the national spotlight for the first time in decades. With all the success Pickett had throughout his tenure at Pitt, it seems obvious that the program would retire his number, eight, in honor of this legend, right?

Not exactly. To be fair, most colleges rarely retire player’s numbers, and Pitt is no exception to this. Pitt has retired only 10 numbers ever. These numbers include Heisman winner Tony Dorsett, NFL Hall of Famer Dan Marino and legendary coach and player Mike Ditka. How does Pickett’s accomplishments stack up to these Panther legends? 

Clearly Pickett’s on-the-field accomplishments place him in this category. Pickett holds the Pitt record for most passing yards and touchdowns, surpassing Marino in both categories. Granted, Marino may have played in fewer games at Pitt than Pickett, but the record is impressive nonetheless. 

The former Pitt quarterback also left his mark on the ACC, earning the conference’s single season passing touchdown record during the 2021 campaign. Pickett’s talent even drew the attention of the Steelers, who drafted him as the only quarterback taken in the first round of the 2022 draft. 

Pickett also led Pitt to several winning seasons. The former Panther signal caller led Pitt to two ACC championships appearances, helping the program win its first ACC championship. The current Steelers quarterback also accumulated some memorable wins along the way. Pickett led an upset of No. 2 Miami in just his first game in blue and gold. And no Pitt fan could forget when Pickett caught a touchdown pass to end UCF’s regular season 27-win streak. 

But Pickett’s off-the-field presence sets him apart from every other former Pitt player. Most of the current 10 players with retired numbers all played in a time where Pitt dominated. The Panthers consistently competed for national titles and awards during the ‘70s and ‘80s. But the Panthers lost steam in the ‘90s, falling into irrelevance behind Pittsburgh’s professional sports successes. It seemed the city didn’t care about college football — until Pickett came along. 

Fans became invested in the Panthers again with the rise of Pickett. Pitt’s 2021 home attendance numbers jumped to 317,556 toal fans, rising by nearly 14,000 fans from 2019. The entire city of Pittsburgh is once again excited about Pitt football, and none of this would have been possible without Pickett.

But still, there are some former Panthers who deserve the honor before Pickett. Former defensive lineman Aaron Donald, specifically, deserves his number 97 retired first. The Pittsburgh native dominated during his four season tenure at Pitt. Between winning the Bronko Nagurski trophy and being selected No. 13 by the Rams, Donald established himself as one of the best defensive players in college football history. 

The former Pitt defensive lineman continues to dominate in the NFL, earning three defensive MVPs and a Super Bowl ring. Pitt football even named its performance center after the NFL star. Pickett may have changed the Panther’s culture, but Donald dominated the game more than any Pitt player in history. 

Nonetheless, Pickett should have his number retired — just not right now. Pickett ultimately might not even get the honor, considering Pitt hasn’t retired a number since Larry Fitzgerald in 2003. The fact that Pickett’s season came less than a year ago definitely plays a factor in Pitt fans’ desire to see his jersey retired. Only after time passes will fans truly know Pickett’s legacy and if Pitt should retire the number eight.