Editor’s note: Throughout the season, we’re looking at Penn State’s most memorable teams from the past 40 years. Up next is the season when Penn State returned to the Rose Bowl after seven decades.
John Black asked a perfectly reasonable question. Unfortunately, nobody provided an answer.
For 100-plus years, Penn State football had competed as an independent, though that all changed when the University joined the Big Ten in the early 1990s and the football program began conference play in 1993.
A year later, the team bulldozed its way to a perfect record. After demolishing Michigan State 59-31 in the regular season finale, Joe Paterno and Co. accepted a bid to the Rose Bowl, perhaps the sport’s most prestigious game and one in which he had never previously coached.
In his biography of Paterno, Michael O’Brien wrote that the legendary coach (understandably) had ambition to play in the Rose Bowl, and that it was something he’d think about when he was alone, walking in the woods in back of his house.
So, Penn State prepared to play in it is first Rose Bowl since 1923, meaning that for the first time in its illustrious history, The Football Letter headed to Pasadena — creator Ridge Riley started the publication in the late 1930s — where editor Black covered his first Rose Bowl. Black would return for two more trips, to cap off the 2008 and 2016 seasons.
Though as Black wrote in his lead to that game’s edition: “The first time is always the best.”
Penn State upended Oregon, with Ki-Jana Carter galloping for an 83-yard touchdown on the game’s opening play from scrimmage. The Nittany Lions collected a 38-20 victory for Paterno’s fifth unbeaten, untied season. And yet, as players, alumni, and fans painfully know, no national title. Not even a share.
“As recently as 1991, undefeated Miami and undefeated Washington were declared co-champions. The year before, Georgia Tech and Colorado shared the title. Why is an undefeated, untied Penn State squad an outcast for the fourth time since 1968? What was possibly wrong with the performance of the 1968, 1969, 1973, and 1994 Penn State teams?
Coach Joe Paterno said the 1994 Nittany Lions ‘proved to everyone in the country that they are as worthy of a national championship as anyone else.’
With no opportunity for the teams to settle the issue on the gridiron, Nebraska, which was also undefeated and untied in 1994, deserves a share of the national title. Certainly Tom Osborne, one of the most respected coaches in college football, has long deserved a national championship ring.
But so do the 1994 Nittany Lions.”
He was right, of course. Though not receiving a share of the championship that they certainly deserved doesn’t make that team any less legendary.
The Penn Stater magazine editor Ryan Jones wrote an extensive oral history on the team, aptly titled, “Legends of ’94,” and you can also read that story on the blog.
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