This Fall will mark a quarter-century since I started going to Penn State home football games, when my dad finally caved and bought season tickets after seeing myself getting more and more into following the team, as well as wanting to watch more games with his friends, who were already season ticket holders and who regularly attended the home games. During those 25 years, I’ve seen my share of great players, amazing wins, crushing defeats, and the like. In the spirit of killing time with one-off posts during the slow Summer months on BSD, I present to you several games that stick out to me (good and bad).
Also, feel free to share Beaver Stadium moments that you still fondly (or not so fondly) look back upon in the comments section below. I’m sure some of you are old enough to remember seeing those legendary 1982 and 1986 teams in person.
This was the first game at Beaver Stadium I ever attended as a 10 year old. I don’t recall much from the game itself, other than PSU dominating USC with the greatest offense in program history led by the likes of Kerry Collins, Ki-Jana Carter, Bobby Engram, and Kyle Brady. I remember this game more for the goosebumps I got hearing the “We Are...Penn State” chant for the very first time, as well as the fight song, alma mater, etc. from the Blue Band. Really, the whole 1994 season produced a bevy of pleasant home game experiences, and I am still horribly spoiled by the fact this was my first year of having season tickets, as there hasn’t been a team or a season quite like it since.
1995 Michigan (aka “The Snow Bowl”)
Not only was the game itself memorable, but so was the week leading up to it. Schools in the State College area were shut down for most of the week when a foot and a half of snow got dumped on the town in mid-November, and our house was without power for a few days. It took a round-the-clock effort from local volunteers and prisoners from the nearby state penitentiary to shovel the snow out of the Beaver Stadium stands in order to avoid having the game postponed.
Sure enough though, the game went on, and it produced a pair of memorable moments for me: One being the student section continually pelting the referees and Michigan players with snowballs (despite numerous warnings over the PA system and even Joe Paterno himself running over to the student section to yell at them), and Joe Nastasi’s fake field goal touchdown run that effectively iced the game for PSU (see video, above).
Okay, so this post isn’t going to be all sunshine and rainbows: The ‘99 squad was best known for sporting one of the sickest defenses ever assembled, led by LaVar Arrington manning the linebacking corps and Courtney Brown anchoring the defensive line. Despite an offense that was very Jekyll-and-Hyde, this was a PSU team that seemed capable of completing an undefeated regular season and earning a spot in the Sugar Bowl for the BCS Championship.
Minnesota had other plans though, as they continually hung around and even led at times during this sleepy Noon homecoming clash. Despite the tight game, I still held out hope (as did probably most of the other Nittany Lion faithful in attendance) that the D would bail us out once again and preserve the undefeated season.
It sure seemed like that was going to be the case when Minny’s quarterback heaved a prayer towards the sideline on 4th-and-forever, a pass that was seemingly batted down harmlessly to the ground. Except for the fact that another Minnesota player happened to be in the right place at the right time and dove for the tipped ball, catching it at the PSU 20-yard line.
Words can’t describe just how much my stomach sank upon seeing the referees do the hand signal for a caught ball. I even looked over behind me and saw my friend trying to hold back tears, knowing what was about to come. Still, I held out hope that LaVar could leap his way to another game-saving blocked field goal, before that hope was dashed. Beaver Stadium and the tailgating fields surrounding it turned into a funeral-like atmosphere, having seen the team’s national title hopes go down with a fluky catch and subsequent game-winning field goal. Many say it was also the loss that brought about the beginning of “The Dark Years” where the program only managed one winning season in the first half-decade of the 2000’s.
My freshman year (and first year in the student section) was highlighted by witnessing an absolute destruction of Nebraska under the lights during a “Code Blue” which saw PSU fans wear all blue to counteract the red of the traveling Nebraska contingent. I’ll never forget how the then-record setting crowd exploded when Rich Gardner intercepted Nebraska’s QB Jamaal Lord and raced to the end zone (see video above). Such an amazing night.
2005 Ohio State
My senior year at PSU saw the re-emergence of the football program in the national spotlight after The Dark Years and this game epitomized that re-emergence. ESPN’s flagship shows Cold Pizza (now known today as “First Take”) and College Gameday set up shop in Happy Valley and the tent village set up outside of the student section became affectionately known as “Paternoville” (now Nittanyville).
After attending the live showing of Gameday (which back then, was only a 90-minute show instead of the 3-hour show it is now), I met up with some high school pals for some quality, day-long tailgating, followed by witnessing PSU jump out to a 14-3 advantage in the first half and ultimately hang on to win 17-10, thanks to some stingy defensive play, including Tamba Hali’s immortalized sack/forced fumble on Ohio State QB Troy Smith. Oh, and this was of course, the game where Zombie Nation became forever ingrained within Beaver Stadium, as they must have blasted it at least 50 times that night. Even the “old persons” sections were jumping up and down.
Then of course, came the post-game where cops on horses armed with mace marched onto the field to try and deter the students from storming it. Some students were standing outside the back of the end zone, but didn’t get any further as the horse cops advanced. It was a pretty stark contrast to the 2016 win over OSU, when you saw a sea of white engulf the field almost immediately after the clock hit triple zeroes.
The 2012 home game that gets talked about the most is the emotional overtime win against Wisconsin on Senior Day, but I’m going with the win over Northwestern, because that one to me was where you saw the true scrappiness and grit of Bill O’Brien-coached teams come to fruition. It was incredibly fun to watch the team rally from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter, which included a clutch Matt McGloin-to-Allen Robinson touchdown on 4th down inside the red zone, which was later followed up by McGloin himself running it in on a critical 3rd down to give PSU the lead with only a few minutes to play, giving us the GIF that keeps on giving. I also will never forget seeing Gerald Hodges seemingly jump 12 feet in the air when running over to the sideline to celebrate with his teammates after the defense came up with one last stand to hold off Northwestern.
I’ll always remember this one for being Saquon Barkley’s coming out party. Yes, he had already broken the PSU Internets the week before by hurdling over a Buffalo player, but his 21 carry, 195-yard, and two-touchdown performance under the lights against Rutgers (back when Rutgers was still semi-competitive) in only his third collegiate game was when he introduced himself to the rest of the college football world.
After seeing decent at best running back play for the past few seasons, watching Saquon felt like John Travolta sticking the syringe full of adrenaline into Uma Thurman’s heart in Pulp Fiction. I hadn’t seen a running back who wowed me the way Saquon did since watching Ki-Jana Carter as a kid, and walked out of Beaver Stadium (as did everyone else) knowing that I had just witnessed the birth of latest Nittany Lion legend.
2016 Ohio State
I guess I’m the type who tries not to get his hopes up too high in general, so perhaps that’s why I was convinced PSU stood virtually zero chance of beating the Buckeyes. I was merely hoping they wouldn’t get blown out of the water.
You don’t need me to explain what happened in this game, so all I will say is that I still can’t believe Grant Haley avoided getting tackled by the Ohio State punter 20 yards from the end zone after scooping up Marcus Allen’s blocked field goal. I’m pretty sure all the grown men and women surrounding me in the stands were crying tears of joy after JT Barrett was sacked on 4th-and-forever to seal the game for PSU. My only regret about that night was that I was too high up in the stands to be able to storm the field.