A scoreless tie in 1922 marked the first of 70 gridiron meetings between Penn State and Syracuse—only the Pitt Panthers have lined up opposite the Nittany Lions more often. The 71st meeting between the old foes also marks the start of the 2013 season—and gives us a welcome excuse to dig through the Football Letter archives.
Here, a look back at five of Penn State’s 42 wins in the series, as covered by editors Ridge Riley ’32 and John Black ’62 in the pages of the Letter.
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Penn State 33, Syracuse 6 ~ Oct. 29, 1938 ~ New Beaver Field
The Nittany Lions went 3-4-1 in ’38, the program’s last losing record before a run of 26 consecutive winning seasons. That season also marked the debut of The Football Letter, and Ridge Riley’s unique access and familiar style was evident from the start. “We were in the Sunday morning press conference room out at Bob’s new home on McKee Street,” Riley wrote of then-coach Bob Higgins ’18. “…In another room a little Higgins girl was picking out a tune on the piano with one finger while another little Higgins girl sprawled out on the floor with the funny papers. It was very peaceful.”
Sophomore Chuck Peters ’41 was the Lions’ hero on this day, running 11 times for 159 yards and a couple of touchdowns, and completing three of five pass attempts (Penn State threw just six times all day) and another score; he also intercepted a pass. Of Peters, Riley wrote, “We want to tell you that Penn State has something there… In case you haven’t seen Peters perform, he is a tall, rangy kid—and not quite as heavy as he looks. He runs with a galloping stride, seems to have a knack of cutting when he should, and uses the stiff arm with great effectiveness.”
Penn State 41, Syracuse 0 ~ Nov. 4, 1944 ~ Archbold Stadium
Based on Riley’s write-up, the team’s’ war-time drive to upstate New York might’ve been more taxing than the game itself: “On the way to Syracuse Friday afternoon, two carloads of our buoyant freshmen were somewhat delayed near the little country village of Homer, N.Y. They joined a bucket brigade and helped put out a fire that threatened to spread from a farmer’s barn to his nearby residence.” The Lions’ didn’t seem bothered by the extra exertion, posting a lopsided shut-out en route to a 6-3 finish.
Penn State 15, Syracuse 14 ~ Oct. 18, 1969 ~ Archbold Stadium
The Lions hadn’t lost in more than two years when they visited Syracuse midway through the ’69 season, in the midst of what would be the program’s second straight 11-0 season and an eventual 31-game unbeaten streak. This might have been the toughest game of that run. The Orange led 14-0 going into the fourth quarter—”We have purposefully not described in detail the agony of the first half,” Riley wrote in that week’s Letter—and outgained Penn State on the day, but couldn’t hold the Lions late. Lydell Mitchell ’72 and Franco Harris ’72 each ran for late touchdowns and All-American safety Neal Smith ’70 nabbed an interception to seal it.
Penn State 35, Syracuse 7 ~ Oct. 20, 1979 ~ Giants Stadium
The 2013 season opener isn’t the first time the Nittany Lions and Orange have met in New Jersey Meadowlands. The first time was a mid-season tilt at Giants Stadium, a Syracuse home game relocated because old Archbold Stadium had been demolished and the new Carrier Dome wasn’t yet ready to host a game. The Penn State offense was led by quarterback Dayle Tate ’80, who, as John Black wrote, was the subject of “murmurs from the armchair coaches” who doubted he was the best man for the job. “Saturday, the lanky junior lived up to his coach’s confidence. Passing the ball with aplomb and running when the occasion called for it, Tate sparked the Nittany Lion offense to its most consistent, most balanced and most polished performance of the season.” Tate threw for 199 yards and three touchdowns in the win.
Penn State 28, Syracuse 7 ~ Sept. 12, 2009 ~ Beaver Stadium
The theme was “Classic Day” as the Orange made their first trip to State College since 1990. “Fans came dressed in tie-dyes, headbands and peace signs,” John Black wrote. “The Nittany Lion danced like a Blues Brother, cheerleaders twisted like their grandmothers did 45 years ago, and the Blue Band played Beatles music. The 2009 Lions quickly demonstrated how much faster and more wide open the play has become in the last half century when they marched 79 yards on the game’s first seven plays for the opening touchdown.” Senior QB Daryll Clark ’08, ’09 (pictured above) passed for 240 yards and three touchdowns in the win. The Lions would go on to finish 11-2, beating SEC foe LSU in the Capital One Bowl.
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