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.
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.
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.”