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. Arizona (1999)

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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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The Man For the Job

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Penn State got its man.

With James Franklin’s arrival today as the Nittany Lions’ 16th head football coach, that’s the only logical conclusion. Less than two years removed from NCAA sanctions that many thought would cripple the program, Penn State has hired arguably the most dynamic and talented young coaching prospect in the nation. Continue reading