Penn State-Pitt matchups over the years have featured some classic battles.
And also, some memorable stories.
We’ll throw it back a little further for this week’s edition of From the Archives, looking at how The Football Letter’s creator and original writer Ridge Riley ’32 shared an in-depth look at Penn State football like nobody else could.
The year was 1974. The site: Three Rivers Stadium.
Penn State has largely dominated this series for the last 50-plus years (25-8-1 since 1966), and this impressive run includes a win coming on Thanksgiving night in their regular season finale in ’74.
During a pre-game players meeting — which preceded the team prayer — running back Tom Donchez gave such a fiery pep talk that he closed out his remarks by throwing his helmet off the side of a locker.
The helmet bounced off and hit starting linebacker Greg Buttle square between the eyes, knocking him out cold. This was problematic, perhaps mostly because Buttle called the defensive plays.
Riley recounted this sequence in The Football Letter that recapped the victory, writing that when Joe Paterno heard Buttle couldn’t play, the legendary coach was heard muttering, “Oh God, can’t we even get through the team prayer without an injury?”
In a sign of the times, even though he was “wobbly and a trifle pale,” Buttle played from the start after he was “patched up like a prizefighter,” Riley wrote. Despite his injury, Buttle was “king of the linebackers,” and assistant head coach John O’Hara proudly declared after the game that Buttle never missed a signal while calling plays.
This last note is even more remarkable since Buttle reported later, “Everything seemed to be in slow motion for the first quarter. I hadn’t known what hit me, and when I came to, everybody was gone. It was just like a bad dream.”
After receiving six stitches in a gash over his eye at halftime, Riley wrote that Buttle played even better in the second half, as the team leader refused to come out of the game.
Ranked No. 10 nationally going into the contest, Penn State collected a 31-10 victory over No. 18 Pitt. The Nittany Lions then capped off the season with a 41-20 victory over Baylor in the Cotton Bowl.
A classic 1-2 punch.