As the Nittany Lions hit the practice field this week to begin yet another season they are surrounded by tradition from the shiny black shoes to the jersey with no name. But traditions don't come easy, nor do they come all at once. Here are but 10 dates with destiny that changed the program forever.
February 19, 1966—In the Beginning......
If not for this date then none of the rest have meaning. Penn State hires then little known assistant Joe Paterno as its new head coach on this date for the grand sum of $20,000 a season. Paterno proceeds to go 5-5 in his first season. The rest, as they say, is history.
January 1, 1969—Too Many Men
Penn State grabs national attention with a 15-14 win over No. 6 Kansas in the Gator Bowl to cap Paterno's first undefeated season.
The game seemed to have slipped away in the final seconds when the Nittany Lions missed a two-point conversion. However, officials ruled that Kansas had 12 men on the field and Penn State was given a second chance, which they converted. A later look at the game film showed that Kansas had 12 men on the field through most of the Lions' final scoring drive.
January 1, 1970—Who Cares About Nixon?
The Nittany Lions defeat Missouri 10-3 in the Orange Bowl on the strength of seven interceptions just weeks after President Nixon named Texas the No. 1 college football team. The Lions had accepted a bid to the Orange Bowl before a series of losses by Michigan and Oklahoma vaulted them to a No. 2 ranking. Paterno never forgives Nixon for the slight.
January 1, 1979—Fourth and Goal
According to Penn State writer Lou Prato, the Lions suffer their worst defeat in history in the Sugar Bowl, 14-7.
Penn State had the ball first-and-goal inside the five-yard line in the fourth quarter only to be denied four times by the 'Bama defense. The Nittany Lions first chance at a national title goes by the wayside and Paterno admits that he had been out-coached by Bear Byrant.
November 28, 1981—48-14
The Nittany Lions spot No. 1 ranked Pitt a 14-0 lead, but cut them off at the goal line on their next two possessions. An interception at the goal line by Mark Robinson following a wicked open-field hit by Franco Harris' brother Pete turned the tide in the game and the Lions rattle off 48 unanswered points to hand Dan Marino and the Panthers the worst loss suffered by a No. 1 ranked team at home, a record that still stands.
January 1, 1983—At Last!!!
Penn State stuffs Herschel Walker and the Georgia offense in the Sugar Bowl 27-23 to take its first national title. Former walk-on Greg Garrity catches the winning touchdown pass from Todd Blackledge and lands on the cover of Sports Illustrated to boot.
January 2, 1987—Interceptaverde
Penn State takes home its second national title with a 14-10 win over heavily favored Miami in the Fiesta Bowl. The Nittany Lion defense picks off Vinny Testaverde five times en route to the win, including a pick on the next to the last play of the game by linebacker Pete Giftopoulas at the Lions goal line on fourth-and-12 to seal the win.
December 19, 1989—Big Ten or Bust
Penn State is officially offered and accepts a spot in the Big Ten, beginning a realignment of college football. The Lions drop traditional rivals Notre Dame, Pitt, and West Virginia to make the deal happen. The increase in revenues brought on by the move build the Bryce Jordan Center, a major expansion of Beaver Stadium, and the nearby State College airport.
November 12, 1994—The Drive
The undefeated Nittany Lions are down 31-28 to Illinois with six minutes remaining when they field a punt on their own four-yard line. They proceed to march the ball 96 yards in just under five minutes for the winning touchdown, giving them a 35-31 victory that saves their season and sends them off to Pasadena for their first trip to the Rose Bowl since 1923.
January 3, 2006—If It Takes All Night.....
Kevin Kelly boots a 28-yard field goal in the third overtime to lift the Lions to a 26-23 win over Florida State in the Orange Bowl. It is the longest game in Penn State history and caps an 11-1 season, the best record for the Lions in 12 seasons. Kelly had three other chances to win the game in regulation and overtime, but the freshman kicker was wide with all of them.