PA - What the Penn State-Pitt Series Meant to Me Back in 1982...and Still Does - - State College News
As a Penn State undergrad and Daily Collegian sports editor, I covered Nittany Lion football from 1979-82 — at the height of the Penn State-Pitt rivalry — and that included four consecutive games between the two rivals.
The series meant so much to me that it was the focus of my farewell column in Collegian Magazine, November 26, 1982. (Published below.)
Penn State beat Pitt that day, 19-10, in Beaver Stadium with Todd Blackledge — in the booth for ABC this Saturday, for the series' 100th and, for now, final game — at quarterback. It was the Nittany Lions' last regular-season game before defeating Georgia in the Sugar Bowl for Penn State's first national championship title.
It's about more than just going 1-0.
• • •
There were long lines of cars. It was cold. Pattee was big. The Nittany Lions beat Pitt. And we ate dinner at The Tavern.
"This is Penn State," my Uncle Hal kept repeating to his three little nephews as he dragged them around for one, very long Penn State-filled day back in 1972.
It was November 25, 1972, to be exact. I know, because I checked. It was easy. I know Penn State beat Pitt worse than even my midget football team, 0-9 the season before, was beaten. And I know the game was in Beaver Stadium.
Penn State won, 49-27, after leading 42-0 after three quarters. It seemed like just about everyone left after that quarter, including Mr. Besket, who worked at The Tavern. He was Penn State, too.
While checking the date and score of the game, I also read about it — my first Penn State game. Pitt that day was coached by Carl DePasqua, who had seasons of 4-6, 5-5, 3-8 and then 1-10 in 1972, his last at Pitt and the only double-digit loss season Pitt has ever had. Penn State was headed to the Sugar Bowl, where it would pick up a $400,000 check for getting shut out by Oklahoma.
John Hufnagel played quarterback for Penn State, which had Bob Nagle at fullback. I kept on getting the two of them confused. The fact that I ate a bagel that morning for the first time in my life didn't help matters, either.
Besides, it was cold. My uncle kept us going by feeding us hot chocolate and warming us with tales of Penn State.
• • •
When he was just out of the service, my uncle said, he had lived in Nittany Barracks. They were new then. Later, he lived above The Tavern and worked there, too. Joe Paterno, he said, used to be a regular customer at The Tavern and would always sit at the same table up front.
My uncle likes Joe Paterno. Most uncles who went to Penn State do.
But most cousins don't. My cousin, one of three little nephews described earlier, went to Pitt. He was there when Pitt won the national championship in 1976. "Pitt is it," he always said. And still does.
My cousin got his when Elliott Walker didn't like a call my cousin made while refereeing Elliott Walker's intramural basketball championship game. So Elliott Walker broke my cousin's jaw.
My brother — the third of those little nephews — went to Pitt for two years. But left. Presumably before my brother also got his jaw broken by Elliot Walker.
While checking up on the 1972 game, I learned it came in the midst of a 10-game series winning streak by Penn State. From 1966 to 1975, Penn State never lost to Pitt and outscored the Panthers, 414 to 135.
But in all fairness to Pitt, the Panthers dominated the series from 1913 to 1938, winning 20, tying twice (0-0 in 1920 and ’21) and losing only once, by 20-0 in 1919. In those 25 years, Pitt outscored Penn State, 348 to 58.
These things even out. Penn State now leads the series — which began in 1893 with a 32-0 Penn State victory — with 40 wins, 38 losses and 3 ties. Pitt's record is 38-40-3, as you would expect.
• • •
I've seen the last three of those games from the press box, four if you count today.
1979 was not a good year for Penn State. It was a great year for Pitt, which went 11-1. The Nittany Lions lost 29-14. It's difficult to remember the specifics of that game. Now I know why Joe Paterno always seems to get the dates and years mixed up. (Except for ’68 and ’69, the years of Reid and Smear and Kwalick. I think those were Joe Paterno's favorite teams, but this year's could be right up there, too.)
I don't think Joe Paterno liked 1979 very much. Penn State went 8-4 and squeaked out a win over Tulane in the Liberty Bowl. Anyway, a few scenes do stand out from the Pitt game that year:
One was the sight from the sidelines of freshman quarterback Jeff Hostetler driving Penn State almost the length of the field in the final minutes. He didn't quit. Still doesn't.
The second involved starting quarterback Dayle Tate, whose troubled season was topped off by an injury midway through the Pitt game. Still, he talked patiently and openly afterwards with reporters in the locker room. And he still had a sense of humor.
"During the week," Dayle Tate told a trio of reporters, of which I was one, "Matt Millen was trying to get me ready for the game. Matt comes by and says, ‘Hey, Dayle. I want to get you ready for the game...Booooo!' "
Dayle Tate laughed.
The third was Curt Warner, who wasn't mauled by reporters after the game as he is these days. A wisp of the man that he is today, Warner gave Penn State a 14-10 lead that day by returning a kick-off back 95 yards. That lead quickly disappeared. "I thought we were going to start rolling like Penn State rolls. But we didn't," said Warner afterwards, as if he wasn't sure that this was the same Penn State team that was almost national champ the previous year.
• • •
In 1980, Pitt won again. What stands out most for me for that year was Pitt head coach Jackie Sherrill standing on top of a trainer's table after the game. You wouldn't have guessed that his fourth-ranked team had just beaten the fifth-ranked team on national television.
No, Jackie Sherrill looked more like he a "before" photo of an Ex-Lax ad. He didn't smile once. I bet Foge Fazio smiled at least once after Notre Dame beat Pitt this year.
1981. Mention that game and one image flashes to mind — that of Kenny Jackson facing out of bounds, standing a half-inch from the white paint of the sidelines after catching a pass from Todd Blackledge.
Although he actually stood there for less than a second, it seems as if Kenny Jackson remained planted there for at least three or four minutes, planning his 270-deree pirouette and counting the bristles of the Astroturf before scoring a touchdown.
Pitt had a 14-0 lead after the first quarter of that game but Penn State scored 48 points to kill Pitt's national title hopes. (Pitt, of course, would like to return the favor today.)
• • •
Kenny Jackson's graceful maneuver will always stay with me, but the Pitt game I think I'll remember the most was the one on November 25, 1972. And the thing I liked most about that game came in the parking lot — after the game was over.
Heading to the car we saw a drunk fan, who standing about as erect as a drunk fan could. With great flair, he brought his left arm across his chest and put his left hand under his raised right arm, then slurred:
"Under the arm, Pitt!"