Editor’s note: Throughout the season, we’re looking at Penn State’s most memorable teams from the past 40 years. This week, we spotlight the 2005 squad that won 11 games and ended the season with an Orange Bowl victory. In the video below, defensive back Calvin Lowry discussed the mindset of that team, his interception in the White Out game against Ohio State, and much more.
A lot can change in a year. Don’t believe that? Just ask the players and coaches on the 2005 Penn State football team.
After enduring an uncharacteristic down stretch, Penn State won 10-plus games in a season for the fifth straight decade under Joe Paterno, signaling a return to the top of the polls and coming within a whisper of playing for the national title.
The Nittany Lions closed out their 10-1 regular season with a 31-22 win at Michigan State, where defensive co-captain Alan Zemaitis picked of three passes — twice turning around the Spartans near the goal-line — and returning a third to set up a Penn State touchdown.
The Football Letter editor John Black was on the scene and included Zemaitis’ apt summary of what the 2005 season meant for he and his teammates.
“If you were a player on this team, you would understand that we went through hell,” Zemaitis said, as chronicled in that game’s edition of The Football Letter. “When we’d lose, people would point fingers, saying we brought Penn State down. Well, these same players brought Penn State black.”
You can hear more from Zemaitis this week, as he’s scheduled to appear on Thursday’s episode of The Football Letter Live. The show will air Thursday night at 8, and alumni and fans can register online or tune in on Facebook.
Zemaitis earned All-Big Ten honors three times and was a second-team All-American during his senior season of 2005. He also broke the Big Ten and Penn State single-season record with 207 interception yards in 2003. He’s currently coaching at Susquehanna, where even though the team’s season has been canceled because of COVID-19, he’s staying busy by spearheading a community service project. You can read more about his efforts on the blog.
The victory over the Spartans sent the Nittany Lions to the Orange Bowl, where they outlasted Florida State 26-23 in three overtimes. Penn State nearly played for the national title, though a controversial finish in Ann Arbor, where time was added to allow Michigan to run one more play, resulting in a walk-off touchdown for the Wolverines.
Black succinctly summed up the emotions after winning the Big Ten title, noting Penn State’s impressive ascent back into the national picture.
Here are the two lead paragraphs of The Football Letter following Penn State’s win in East Lansing to win the 2005 Big Ten title:
“Zipping from the ground floor to the penthouse in one season, the Nittany Lion gridironers finally got off their express elevator at the top of the Big Ten standings Saturday with a 31-22 triumph at Michigan State, completing the most dramatic win-loss turnaround in Penn State history.
A team doubted by so many believed in itself and came within a Michigan second of perfection in the regular season, while claiming Penn State’s second Big Ten title in 13 years, winnings its first Bowl Championship Series bid and climbing to No. 4 in the national polls.”
In addition to Zemaitis appearing on this week’s show, fellow defensive back Calvin Lowry also spoke with us recently to talk about the 2005 championship squad. Lowry is currently coaching at Tulsa, and you can check out the video at the top of this story for that interview.
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