From The Archives Penn State V. Ohio (1969)

All-time great linebacker Jack Ham (33) was a standout player for the 1969 Penn State Football team / Photo Credit: The Daily Collegian

The 1969 Penn State Football season will go down as one of the best in Penn State history, regardless of the controversy that surrounded its culmination.

The Nittany Lions finished 11-0, marking the second-consecutive unbeaten and untied season for Joe Paterno’s program.

Penn State was led by captains Tom Jackson, Mike Reid and Steve Smear, alongside standout linebacker Jack Ham and a trio of excellent rushing threats in Charlie Pittman, Franco Harris and Lydell Mitchell.

One of those 11 wins came against the Ohio Bobcats, with the Nittany Lions pummeling their MAC opponent, 42-3 in front of a sold-out crowd of 49,069 at Beaver Stadium on Oct. 25.

There were also wins over Navy, Colorado, Kansas State, West Virginia, Syracuse, Boston College, Maryland, Pitt and NC State.

Somehow, that undefeated mark and a 10-3 Orange Bowl win over No. 6 Missouri were not enough for Penn State to even be considered for a national championship in the eyes of then U.S. President Richard Nixon.

The president had remarked ahead of the Dec. 6 matchup between Texas and Arkansas — for which he would be in attendance — that he would award the winner of the game with a special plaque and the designation of national champions. The Longhorns would win the contest, 15-14, thus earning that designation from Nixon.

In line with the president’s proclamation, college football’s voting pool at the time named Texas the unanimous national champs less than a month later after the Longhorns defeated Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl Classic.

While Penn State was named co-national champions by the Foundation for the Analysis of Competitions and Tournaments (FACT) and the Sagarin Ratings, it’s hard to feel like the Nittany Lions were unjustly wiggled out of the consensus national title race.

Paterno later famously at Penn State’s 1973 commencement ceremony that “I’ve wondered how President Nixon could know so little about Watergate in 1973 and so much about college football in 1969.”

You can watch more on this unique event in college football history through the 2014 ESPN Documentary: “Nixon’s National Champs,” which took a closer look at Nixon’s decision to award Texas the national champion honor. The documentary can be found on WatchESPN.

Penn State’s History In The Outback Bowl

2011 Outback Bowl (Photo by Steve Manuel/The Football Letter)

Penn State’s matchup against No. 21 Arkansas will be the program’s fifth appearance in the Outback Bowl, and the first since 2011.

Let’s take a quick look back at the previous four games in Tampa.

1996 vs. Auburn (Penn State won 43-14)

The 1995 season wasn’t quite as special as the magical 1994 campaign, but it still ended in triumph. The Nittany Lions blew out Auburn, 43-14, thanks to Bobby Engram’s MVP performance. Engram had 113 receiving yards with a pair of touchdowns.

The first half was controlled by the defenses, with Auburn taking a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter. After back-to-back Penn State field goal drives, a Wally Richardson touchdown strike to Mike Archie extend the Penn State to 16-7 going into halftime. From that point forward, it was a complete domination from the Nittany Lions.

Just five minutes into the second half, Richardson connected with Engram on a nine-yard touchdown pass. A drive later Richardson again passed for a touchdown, this time hooking up with Steven Pitts. Just like that it was 29-7.

The scoring wasn’t over, though. Curtis Enis plunged into the end zone from a yard out and then a minute later Engram snagged his second TD grab of the afternoon to make it 43-7. That was 40 unanswered points for the blue and white. A late Kevin McLeod rushing touchdown for the Tigers made the final score 43-14.

A complete effort for Penn State to earn its 17th bowl win.

1999 vs. Kentucky (Penn State won 26-14)

Just three years later, Joe Paterno and the Nittany Lions were back in Tampa for the Outback Bowl.

Heisman trophy finalist Tim Couch got the scoring started with a touchdown pass to Lance Mickelesen and put the Wildcats up 7-0 early. Penn State answered back with a field goal, only for Couch to connect on another touchdown pass to put Kentucky ahead 14-3.

A Kevin Thompson found Joe Nastasi for the Nittany Lions’ first touchdown of the day in the second quarter, before another Travis Forney field goal closed the gap to 14-13.

Two more Forney field goals gave Penn State a 19-14 lead. In the fourth quarter the Nittany Lions took full control as Chafie Fields scored on a 19-yard touchdown run with four minutes left to give Penn State a 26–14 lead. That would prove to be the final score.

2007 vs. Tennessee (Penn State won 20-10)

A defensive struggle for most of the afternoon, Penn State and Tennessee traded field goals on either side of the first period. The Nittany Lions scored the game’s first touchdown on a 2-yard connection from Anthony Morelli to Andrew Quarless.

The Volunteers answered on the next possession with a LaMarcus Coker 42-yard touchdown run.

A scoreless third quarter saw the score locked in a 10-10 tie, only for a Tony Davis 88-yard fumble return for a touchdown to completely flip the game on its head for the Nittany Lions.

A stingy Penn State defense and another Kevin Kelly field goal secured the 20-10 win, the Nittany Lions’ third win in Outback Bowls.

2011 vs. Florida (Florida won 37-24)

The game started brightly enough for the Nittany Lions as Matt McGloin found Derek Moye for a 5-yard touchdown midway through the first quarter.

The Gators bit back with 14 unanswered, including a blocked punt returned for a touchdown. Then, Penn State responded with 10 points unequalled of their own (a Michael Zordich TD plunge and then a Collin Wagner field goal). At halftime, the Nittany Lions held a narrow 17-14 lead.

The second half proved to be a different story, though. In what was Urban Meyer’s final game as head coach of the Gators, Florida rallied to outscore Penn State 23-7 in the second half. An Ahmad Black 80-yard interception return for a touchdown sealed the win for the SEC outfit. It was Penn State’s first loss in the Outback Bowl.

So, there you have. A brief history of Penn State at the Outback Bowl. Let’s hope the Nittany Lions improve to 4-1 in the game in a few weeks.


Success With Honor Exemplified

In the past few days, two Penn Staters were recognized for contributions that go beyond the playing field, exemplifying Success With Honor.

On Tuesday, former Penn State linebacker and current Detroit Lions fullback Jason Cabinda was nominated by his organization for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award. The honor recognizes an NFL player for outstanding community service activities, in addition to their success on the field.

“Guys like Jason Cabinda can change the world,” Lions head coach Dan Campbell said in a statement released by the team. “He is a man of principle who sets such a positive example for our entire locker room. Since the day I met him, he has embodied what it means to be a leader on and off the field. With our platform in today’s NFL, it is our duty to help lift up the lives of others, and Jason carries this responsibility with dignity and honor.”

As a Nittany Lion, Cabinda totaled 283 tackles as a reliable linebacker from 2014-17. He stood out during his senior season in Happy Valley by making 88 total tackles, forcing two fumbles, and grabbing 6.5 tackles for loss.

Since joining Detroit in 2019, Cabinda has been devoted to the youth and community in Detroit through his various efforts with Davison Elementary School. This August, he hosted a Back to School Book Drive where he gave out more than 800 books in addition to school supplies for students to take home. Cabinda also held virtual weekly reading comprehension sessions with Davison students throughout the COVID-19 pandemic with the goal of eradicating childhood illiteracy.

Incentivizing students to invest in their education, he established the “Jason Cabinda Attendance Award,” given to students that maintain 100 percent attendance during the school year. His programming at Davison Elementary has garnered funding from the Ford Motor Co. Fund, Athletes for Charity and other donors.

“Walter Payton’s legacy embodies so many things. He was one of the greatest running backs on the field, and he truly looked out for people that didn’t have a voice and gave them a voice. I think within my character, I hope to embody Walter Payton in the sense of wanting to look out for others and wanting to be somebody who gives back and be somebody who remembers their roots and where they came from,” Cabinda said in the release from the team. “When you’re in this position, you can have such an impact on these communities. You can have an impact knowing that the person that is standing in front of them is a person that has been in their shoes and has been sitting in their seats.”


A current Nittany Lion also received recognition on Tuesday, as Penn State men’s basketball senior forward John Harrar was named a top 30 candidate for the prestigious Senior CLASS Award.

To be eligible for the award, a player must be classified as senior and have notable achievements in four areas of excellence: community, classroom, character and competition.

An acronym for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School, the Senior CLASS Award focuses on the total student-athlete and encourages athletes to use their platform in athletics to make a positive impact as leaders in their communities.

From the list of 30 candidates, a committee will select 10 finalists in February. Those 10 names will then be placed on the official ballot for a nationwide vote. Fan balloting will be coupled with votes from coaches and media to determine the recipient of the award.

Harrar has been actively involved in several community service initiatives throughout his time in Happy Valley, including the State College Area Down Syndrome Society Buddy Walk, Coaches vs. Cancer-Penn State initiatives, and volunteering at the Centre County United Way Day of Caring where he and the Nittany Lions have served breakfasts to the 1,500 volunteers.

Penn State head coach Micah Shrewsberry had this to say about Harrar in a recent press conference: “What that kid does every day – in practice, in the film room, in the locker room, on the court – that’s Penn State. When I got here and people started telling me about it –  I’ve got people on my staff from Penn State, and people in the community tell me about Penn State – what I hear that Penn State is, I see it every day and I see it in John and what he does and who he is.”

In addition to his success on the court (he is currently in the top 10 in the country in rebounding), Harrar is a three-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree. He graduated in May 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in management and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in management and organizational leadership from Penn State’s Smeal College of Business.

Harrar is the well-documented leader for Penn State basketball. He was named a recipient of the 2021 Big Ten Outstanding Sportsmanship Award, one of just 28 recipients amongst all Big Ten student-athletes in every sport. He is known for consistently bringing a strong leadership presence and outstanding work ethic that has been praised by opposing coaches and national media alike.

Harrar is also a two-time recipient of Big Ten Sportsmanship Award that is awarded to one member of each Big Ten team.

With players granted an extra year of eligibility due to the Covid-19 pandemic, returning to Penn State for an extra season was never a hard decision for the sixth-year forward, even with the possibility of transferring elsewhere on the table.
 
“I have no regrets coming back,” said Harrar. “This is home for sure.”

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

IMG_3987

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)

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.

Chafie Fields_AP

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.”

___

For more on the The Football Letter, including online archives (requires Alumni Association member log-in), click here.

Not yet an Alumni Association member? Click here.

The Man For the Job

DSC_0304

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