From The Archives: Penn State V. Michigan (2008)

Penn State v. Michigan (Photo by Steve Manuel)

Evan Royster finished with a game-high 174 rushing yards. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

The week leading up to the showdown against the Wolverines was typically jovial at University Park.

Fans camped outside Beaver Stadium starting on Monday, and hundreds of alumni helped dedicate the Alumni Walk at the Hintz Family Alumni Center on Friday. In between, all the usual wonderment enveloped Happy Valley during Homecoming of the 2008 season.

Then, the game started, and the good vibes changed.

Punctuating this point, John Black stated in the lead to that game’s edition of The Football Letter: “All the omens were ominous.”

Michigan had bested Penn State nine consecutive times in the previous decade. And on the first play of the game, A.Q. Shipley’s snap sailed over the head of quarterback Daryll Clark, resulting in a 16-yard loss after Clark fell on the ball.

The Wolverines then corralled a 17-7 lead early in the second quarter.

Penn State scored 39 unanswered for a resounding 46-17 victory that halted all the built-up frustration. Clark ran for two scores and tossed a short touchdown to Jordan Norwood — “a 3-yard laser,” as Black described.

Penn State v. Michigan (Photo by Steve Manuel)

Daryll Clark accounted for three touchdowns while leading Penn State to the comeback victory on Homecoming. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Evan Royster gashed Michigan for 174 rushing yards on only 18 carries. Penn State’s all-time leading rusher started the scoring for the Nittany Lions with a 44-yard touchdown run toward the end of the first quarter.

The Wolverines stumbled through one of their worst seasons, finishing 2008 with a 3-9 overall mark and 2-6 in the Big Ten.

Penn State’s season, meanwhile, continued on an upward trajectory. Well, at least, for the most part. The Nittany Lions suffered one of the program’s most painful losses in the last quarter-century two weeks later, a 24-23 setback at Iowa on a last-second field goal. Daniel Murray booted in a 31-yard field goal with one second left for the Hawkeyes, derailing Penn State’s national championship aspirations.

Penn State rebounded, defeating Indiana and Michigan by a combined score of 83-25 to finish the regular season 11-1. The Nittany Lions earned a Rose Bowl berth, dropping a 38-24 decision to USC in Pasadena.

Back to the comeback against the Wolverines.

That week’s edition of The Football Letter featured a front-cover photo of a Beaver Stadium, flyover by two Navy F-18 Hornet jets, a good example of how this member-benefit publication showcases the entire day—and surrounding pageantry—of fall Saturdays.

When those game days happen in Happy Valley, there’s even more of an opportunity to connect alumni and friends to the program through Steve Manuel’s photos and John’s firsthand account.

You can view the game’s photo gallery on our Flickr page, and also browse galleries over the years by visiting our “albums” tab.

From the Alumni Blue Band’s performance to Black describing how “a colorful autumn sunset glow settled over Bald Eagle Ridge,” fans got the complete picture of not just how Penn State beat Michigan, but also what it was like to be in University Park on game day.”

Taken from The Football Letter’s intro that bookended the lead recalling the ominous omens:

“From the nation’s largest Homecoming Parade, to the soccer and volleyball victories to the White Out student section in Beaver Stadium dancing and singing to music of Celebration, it was a wonderful 89th Homecoming.”

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Two Navy F-18 Hornet jets flew over Beaver Stadium prior to kickoff against Michigan. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

From The Archives: Penn State V. Iowa (2007)

When Penn State hosted Iowa in Week 6 of the 2007 season, it was looking to stop two separate losing streaks.

The Nittany Lions were coming off of two-straight losses to open up their Big Ten campaign. Penn State had also not beaten the Hawkeyes in its last five tries, including an ugly 6-4 home loss in the previous meeting between the two teams in 2004. 

The 2007 matchup proved to be a near-perfect streak-stopper for coach Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions. 

“With the vociferous support of 108,951 fans — the largest crowd to watch a football game that Saturday — the struggling Lions were resuscitated with a 27-7 victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Big Ten opener in Happy Valley,” John Black noted in The Football Letter

Paterno noted that his quarterback Anthony Morelli, still under heavy outside criticism for his turnover-plagued performance against Michigan two weeks prior, threw the ball with more confidence against the Hawkeyes. 

Morelli connected with Derrick Williams on a 24-yard touchdown to put Penn State up 10-0 at the 1:08 mark of the second quarter. 

After a three-and-out by Iowa, Morelli led the Lions down the field in quick fashion and set up a 53-yard field goal from Kevin Kelly as time expired in the first half. 

An 81-yard touchdown drive that ended with a Rodney Kinlaw score in the third quarter chewed up over five minutes on the game clock and extended the Nittany Lion lead to 20-0. 

The two teams traded fourth-quarter touchdowns and Penn State sealed a comfortable 27-7 win that seemed to rejuvenate the team a bit.

The Nittany Lions went on two win their next two contests and five of their final seven overall, including the 24-17 success over Texas A&M in the Alamo Bowl. 

The win over the Hawkeyes also marked just the second time that Paterno had defeated Kirk Ferentz in a head-to-head meeting at the time. 

It also proved to be Penn State’s last win in the series until 2011, when a run of three-successive Hawkeye wins was halted by a 13-3 victory by the Nittany Lions.

From the Archives: Penn State V. Purdue (2000)

From the Archives—Purdue (1)

Tragedy has a way of galvanizing families and communities.

This is the way John Black eloquently started the Oct. 2, 2000 edition of The Football Letter.

Penn State upended a Drew Brees-led Purdue squad 22-20 a few days earlier at Beaver Stadium, one of five victories the team earned during one of the rare losing campaigns in Joe Paterno’s tenure as Nittany Lion head coach.

The score, though, really wasn’t the point. That’s why it wasn’t until the eighth paragraph that Black mentioned anything that happened in the game.

The week leading up to the contest? That’s what set this game apart from your typical fall Saturday in Happy Valley. The events that transpired on campus and at the Ohio State University Hospital are what alumni and fans wanted to hear, read, and learn more about.

Many Penn Staters are familiar with what happened the previous week, when defensive back Adam Taliaferro suffered a catastrophic injury against the Buckeyes. Tragic, and possibly life-altering, Penn State football had never seen one of its players suffer such an injury before, Black summarized.

And while Taliaferro’s inspiring story has been on display for many years — he fully recovered physically and is now successful in several career fields — back in 2000, his future was very much in doubt.

Coaches, teammates, and fans knew this, which made the following week unavoidably surreal.

Justin Kurpeikis, a senior defensive end on the 2000 squad who also played in the NFL, said the days leading up to the Purdue game were different from anything he had ever experienced in the sport.

“From the moment he got injured, I think there was this feel of how serious it was,” Kurpeikis said. “The news we got the following week — just a lot of raw emotion.”

Taliaferro spent four days in the hospital, undergoing cervical spinal decompression surgery, and Paterno and Athletic Director Tim Curley flew back to Columbus to visit Taliaferro and his family in the hospital. Paterno even cancelled practice on Monday, something that seems unheard of today, and probably back then, too.

All of which underscored the seriousness that overshadowed the team leading up to the showdown against the Boilermakers, a formidable opponent that season. Purdue finished the regular season 8-3 and tied for the Big Ten championship with Michigan and Northwestern with a 6-2 conference mark.

“Emotion wears off, preparation and focus don’t,” said Kurpeikis, who grew up near Pittsburgh and played at Central Catholic High School.

“I think what we saw different that week was it provided a way for that team — and we weren’t particularly good that year, we ended up 5-7 — but because of him and what he meant to guys and how jarring the experience was, it forced guys all week long …  If you say you’re going to play for someone, then that focus has to be there, and that’s what I think it was.”

After both teams tallied a pair of field goals in the first half, Purdue took a temporary lead (13-6) after Brees caught a touchdown pass. The Heisman Trophy hopeful had broken the Big Ten record by completing 33-of-49 passes for 409 yards against Minnesota the previous week.

Fullback Paul Jefferson and quarterback Rashard Casey each recorded a rushing score to help push Penn State to the victory over 22nd-ranked Purdue, with Black saying that “Beaver Stadium rocked Saturday like it hasn’t for several years.”

Paterno stated it was the most difficult week of his career as a coach, and defensive coordinator Tom Bradley called Taliaferro before the game to let him know the team was thinking of him. There was a group prayer on the Old Main steps that featured Paterno as a speaker, with funds collected for Taliaferro’s long-term care. At the on-campus rally, fans also signed cards for Taliaferro, in a sign of unity.

Nearly two decades later, Kurpeikis still strongly relates to that sense of belonging, mainly because Penn State has always felt like home for him.

His first memory is watching a game at Beaver Stadium, from the vantage point of his dad’s shoulders. From that moment, Penn State’s the only place where he’s wanted to be. After starring for the Nittany Lions, he played a half-dozen seasons in the NFL before returning to State College in 2007. He’s lived full time in the area since and has founded two companies.

One of his ventures is Atlas Therapy, which specializes in physical therapy clinics in State College and Altoona. He studied a pre-med curriculum at Penn State, and even had aspirations to become a doctor after his playing days. He looked at ways to stay healthy as a player, and he always liked medicine and anatomy, so the transition from NFL player to business owner became something of a natural path.

His time at Penn State served him well, and still does in many ways. While playing for Paterno, Kurpeikis learned about formulating a team, and the importance of a mission, and culture, and accomplishing something special.

All of those ideals, he said, are what drive him today to grow his companies and do things the right way.

Penn State’s still a part of that, and from the way he speaks fondly of his days as a Nittany Lion, always will be.

“There’s not a day that’s gone by since I came to school here — including every day since — that I haven’t thought on a lesson or a quote that either Coach Paterno or my other coaches have said, and that’s a very important time in a young man’s life, 18-22 years old,” Kurpeikis said.

“Every day, whether it’s my family or my business, there’s a situation where I can recall on something that either Joe or one of the other coaches said, or something that went on with my experience that relates. That’s pretty powerful to say that.”

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From The Archives: Penn State V. Maryland (1993)

In an otherwise stress-free game for Penn State on Oct. 2, 1993 — a 70-7 thrashing over Maryland — there were two bizarre instances that grabbed a few headlines post-game. 

During the first quarter, fullback Brian O’Neal was clobbered in the head by a glass bottle thrown from a Maryland fan in the stands. 

O’Neal was hit in the helmet by the bottle while diving in the end zone for Penn State’s second score of the game and the bottle completely shattered. 

“I got some glass in my eye,” O’Neal told reporters afterward, “but luckily the doctor got it out pretty quickly.” 

That followed another bizarre play, when sophomore tailback Ki-Jana Carter was racing his way to the end zone with no defenders in sight. 

Suddenly, to the confusion of everyone, he halted in his tracks about five yards out. 

He had heard a whistle. 

The only problem was the whistle was never blown by a referee on the field, instead it came from someone in the Terrapin student section. 

The head referee ruled that the play would be nullified and the Nittany Lions had to settle for a do-over. 

O’Neal and Carter ultimately got the last laugh when the scoreboard read zeros at the end of the night, and Penn State eased to its 63-point margin of victory. 

Penn State, in its inaugural season as a member of the Big Ten conference, blew past a hapless Terrapins squad. 

As editor John Black ’62 noted in the Football Letter , “Running at will and passing when they felt like it, the Nittany Lions amassed a season-high 526 yards rushing and 659 total net yards.”

Four Nittany Lion backs set career rushing marks, including Carter, who galloped for more than 12.2 yards per carry and finished with 159 yards and three touchdowns. 

Carter, O’Neal, Mike Archie, and Brian Milne each reached the end zone on the ground at least once.  

“Two more touchdowns came on passes from quarterback Kerry Collins to split end Bobby Engram, who set a Penn State record of seven TD catches by a sophomore,” Black noted in The Football Letter.

Senior Craig Fayak and freshman Brett Conway rounded out the offensive explosion with field goals and a number of extra points. 

The 1993 Penn State football season will always be a bit overshadowed by the historic campaign a season later. 

The 1994 Nittany Lions team is, of course, one of the greatest college football teams ever to step foot on a field. 

But even the high-powered offense of the ‘94 squad couldn’t replicate the incredible output the ‘93 team achieved against Maryland.

From the Archives: Penn State V. Pitt (1974)

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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.

From the Archives: Penn State V. Buffalo (2007)

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Penn State Athletics

Rodney Kinlaw finally got the opportunity he wanted. And more than 107,000 fans saw him capitalize on it.

For most of his career, Kinlaw needed to be patient. Whether it was injury or other players above him on the depth chart, Kinlaw needed to persevere. And he did.

He persevered after tearing his ACL in his freshman season. Continued to gut it out when he wasn’t receiving the carries he wanted, or felt he deserved.

Finally, Kinlaw’s patience paid off, and in a big-time way.

During his senior season of 2007, Kinlaw recorded six 100-yard rushing games, with the initial outburst coming against Buffalo in mid-September. Penn State recorded a 45-24 victory, overcoming a sluggish start at Beaver Stadium — the Nittany Lions trailed 3-0 after the first quarter.

Kinlaw scored a six-yard touchdown against Buffalo, “as he refused to be stopped and carried the Bulls’ safety into the end zone,” John Black ’62 wrote in The Football Letter. Kinlaw’s scamper occurred in the fourth quarter, capping off a 6-play, 61-yard drive, on a day when Penn State played in front of a sellout crowd of 107,506 fans.

“It was one of the most amazing feelings ever, and something I’ll probably never experience again — playing in front of 100,000 fans,” said Kinlaw, who switched to No. 20 in his senior year, a nod to his favorite player, Barry Sanders.

“What I miss the most is running through the tunnel, and hearing the lion roar, and smelling the grass while stretching before the game. Nothing will compare to that again.”

Kinlaw, who earned a B.A. from the College of the Liberal Arts, finished 2007 with 1,329 rushing yards, accounting for most of his career rushing yards (1,655) during that year. Penn State completed the season with a 9-4 record, tagging Texas A&M with a 24-17 loss in the Alamo Bowl. Kinlaw earned offensive MVP honors by gaining 143 yards on 21 carries; he finished his career strong, as the performance was his third straight 100-yard game.

That bowl effort, and the weeks and months leading up to it, represented the culmination of Kinlaw’s unwavering belief that he could live up to the moment.

He followed up his 100-yard game against Buffalo with similar efforts versus Iowa (168 yards, two touchdowns), Wisconsin (115 yards, touchdown), Temple (168 yards, touchdown), Michigan State (125 yards, two touchdowns), and Texas A&M.

Each game, Kinlaw had at least 20 attempts, including 27 or more on three occasions. That number might have been the most important of all.

“I really remember feeling that I had the confidence, I knew that I had that the whole time,” Kinlaw said. “Getting the carries brought it all back to how I felt when I first got there. I saw holes develop, and the game became easier. Each game that went by, I saw things clearer and clearer, and things got easier for me.”

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Penn State Athletics

Before his breakout senior season, Kinlaw needed to overcome that ACL injury, and then didn’t win the starting job until his senior season. He even thought about transferring.

One of the reasons why Kinlaw stayed at Penn State was because his experience as a student-athlete was about more than football. His parents, Rodney Sr. and Isreal, stressed the importance of education. And Penn State certainly provided that. Kinlaw learned valuable lessons while playing for the Nittany Lions that have served him well beyond his playing days.

Be on time. Don’t give up. Respect is paramount.

Nowadays, Kinlaw is a successful Southeast Regional Manager with PDS Tech in Georgia, providing aerospace engineering companies with contingent workers. His college days weren’t much different from what some players are experiencing now, at Penn State and elsewhere.

Players jostling for position on the depth chart, wondering if they should make a move or stay put, all during the most formative time of their lives.

Kinlaw’s confident he made the right decision to stay in Happy Valley. It served him well his senior season, and now as an accomplished businessman.

His message to current players? Think about the next 40 years, not just the next four.

“For the kids who are there now who aren’t getting the opportunity, just stick it out and get your education,” Kinlaw said. “Football won’t last forever. You want to have something you can fall back on. Keep sticking it out, keep pushing, and when you get your opportunity, take advantage of it.”

From the Archives: Penn State V. Arizona (1999)

Arizona Daily Star

Arizona Daily Star/David Sanders

Chafie Fields’ energy changed on the way to the stadium.

Fields, one of Penn State’s most accomplished wide receivers, says he always tried to avoid all the pageantry that overtook campus and the community leading up to a big game for the Nittany Lions.

The 1999 season opener against Arizona certainly qualified for that category, and Fields took the same approach as the Nittany Lions prepared to host the Wildcats in a matchup of Top-5 teams at Beaver Stadium. In the first-ever (and only) battle between the squads, Penn State and Arizona each entered the game ranked either third or fourth in the two major polls at the time.

Personally, Fields began the season highly motivated, determined to prove he was an elite wideout with explosive playmaking ability. Still, even with ESPN’s College GameDay in town and the college football world centered on State College, Fields saw the contest against Arizona as “just another week for me.”

That was one of many lessons he learned from Joe Paterno: Don’t get caught up in the attention, or as Fields described, “stay out of the lights.”

Though when Saturday morning rolled around, the mood in the air shifted, and Fields noticed. He saw the outpouring of support, and he felt the energy. Sensed it. Saw it. Knew that Happy Valley was about to be rocking, perhaps had been rocking all week.

As the fleet of Blue Buses pulled away from the team hotel and motored toward Beaver Stadium, there was no longer denying that the upcoming contest against Arizona was significant.

“That’s when you realize the magnitude of things, because all the fans were already out there bright and early,” Fields recalled. “The streets were lined with people welcoming us to the stadium — I’m talking the whole way from Toftrees. The streets were lined with fans. That’s when I started to feel the energy, like ‘OK, we’re here.’”

Fields was ready.

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Associated Press

A senior standout for the ’99 squad, he scored two touchdowns within the game’s first six minutes in spectacular fashion. First, he caught a 37-yard scoring toss from Kevin Thompson on the game’s opening drive, “twisted away from one defender and outran the rest to the corner of the end zone,” as John Black ’62 wrote in The Football Letter.

The next time the Nittany Lions possessed the ball, Fields raced 70 yards on an inside reverse. As Black explained, Fields made a perfect cut over left tackle, and then ran down the middle of the field for the second score.

“And the rout was on,” Black summarized correctly.

At the time, the third-largest crowd in Beaver Stadium history (97,168) watched Penn State dispatch its West Coast opponent 41-7 in a game that was as much of a blowout as the score indicated: The Nittany Lions led 31-0 at halftime and 41-0 after the third quarter.

It should be noted here: Any story about Fields and 1999 needs to include that a few weeks following the blowout over Arizona, he caught one of the most memorable touchdown passes in Penn State football history: Fields corralled a 79-yard score in the waning minutes to catapult the Nittany Lions past Miami for a road victory over the eighth-ranked Hurricanes (Penn State was ranked third). The highlight prompted a memorable call from legendary play-by-play announcer Fran Fisher, who as Fields crossed the goal line, belted with enthusiasm:

Penn State touchdown! No flags! No flags! No flags! 

Fields finished the game against Miami with 177 receiving yards, seventh-best all-time in program history for a single contest. For his career, Fields totaled 88 catches for 1,437 yards, prolific enough to place Fields in the Top 20 all time at Penn State.

Rankings aside with respect to this week’s opponent, a similar situation to the 1999 opener awaits the Nittany Lions on Saturday, with Penn State hosting a first-time opponent that hails from the west.

Penn State and Idaho are set for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff at Beaver Stadium, site of what should be a picturesque backdrop for Labor Day weekend in Happy Valley.

Fields earned a B.S in 1999 from the College of Health and Human Development, and he’s now an accomplished sports agent who’s represented many Penn State lettermen. Anytime he can work with a Penn Stater, “it’s a lot more personal,” he says, and he plans to cheer on the Nittany Lions this season.

That’ll always be true for Fields, a self-described “Penn State loyalist” who hopes to see the Nittany Lions win out and compete in the College Football Playoff. Either way, he’s standing by and ready if he’s ever called upon to serve the team.

“Anything that I can do to support the program, I’ll do,” Fields said. “I’ll be one of the biggest fans. I’ll be rooting for Penn State all year, I’m always going to.”

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