Penn State Football: Bradley’s 451-Game Odyssey May End in Dallas
DALLAS -- Seven hours after Game No. 367:
Tom Bradley is already at work, the town and the campus still quiet after collapsing in exultation over Penn State’s 17-10 wet Whiteout victory on Oct. 8, 2005, against Ohio State.
Bradley looks out the large window of the Lasch Building second-floor lobby window, then presses his nose against the pane. He waves in the parking lot to a visitor who drove by while out on a bread and milk run.
Tommy comes to the front door to chat. “What are you doing up this early?” he asks.
“Breakfast for the kids,” comes the reply. ”What are YOU doing here?”
“The elliptical,” Bradley answers, his face lathered in perspiration. “Got my hour in. Now it’s time to see some film. Last night’s history, pal. We got Michigan.”
No one has worked harder.
* * *
Minutes before kickoff, Game No. 233.
Warmups inside Beaver Stadium are almost over on this brilliant October day in 1994. No. 1 Penn State is getting ready to face No. 21 Ohio State on national television.
Bradley stood at midfield, talking up a guy with a camera who was taking pictures.
The sun was warm, and while downing a bottle of water the photographer had spilled his drink over all his shorts. There they stood at midfield, exchanging pleasantries. Bradley looked down, saw the big water spot, and tilted his head backward.
His trademark ballcap almost came off, he was laughing so loud.
Pre-game tension? Laughter is the best medicine.
“What’d you do, pee your pants?” giggled Bradley. The game – which Penn State went on to win 63-14 – could wait. This was a head-shaker he couldn’t resist.
No one has laughed harder.
* * *
This would have been around Game No. 380.
The interview with Bradley, in his 10-foot by 12-foot inner sanctum in Lasch, was over. It could have gone on another half-hour, if Bradley has his accommodating way. The reporter had enough, but not Bradley.
He had talked about the recruiting note that had sealed the deal with Justin King, the note now framed in his office. And about how Penn State meant so much to him, like a family – like the close-knit Bradley family from Johnstown was as well.
The reporter got up from the small two-seater sofa crammed into Bradley's office. Time to leave.
“Hey, hey,” said Bradley in that fast and excited voice of his. “Tell you what, take this box of candy along.”
He reached for the large container of Gardiner’s Peanut Butter Meltaways. A favorite. Sure was tempting.
“Tom, I can’t take that. It’s not ethical – it’ll look like I’m writing a nice story about you because you gave me some candy,” the writer said.
“Aw, c’mon! We know that’s not true. You’d write a nice one anyway,” he said with a smile. “Tell you what, take it and give it away to the kids in your class.”
No one has been nicer.
* * *
It was Thanksgiving Day, 50 hours before Game No. 450.
The shit has hit the fan. Repeatedly. It was kind of funny, in a very sad way, having a big family-style dinner in a Penn State dining hall this week. Giving thanks in light of the tragic weeks that preceded Thanksgiving had the potential to ring to hollow, to make in a vicious mockery of a joyous holiday.
Bradley didn’t think so.
As the players and the assistant coaches and the families made their way up the steps to the second-floor dining hall, there stood Coach Bradley. Wearing a tie and a grin, he welcomed each and every one of them. Handshakes, quips, pats on the packs. A smile. Coaching.
This was going to be a nice get-together, a team-builder, even if had Bradley had to do it single-handedly.
The idea of team extended to after dinner, when the coach gathered a bunch of servers and cooks around the buffet line for a group shot. Their smiles at being included showed that they had a story to tell their families when they got home that evening.
No one has worked harder at keeping everyone together.
* * *
Game No. 451, the TicketCity Bowl against Houston on Monday, could very well be Bradley’s last at Penn State.
As a player from 1975-78, Bradley was nicknamed “Scrap” for a blood-and-guts type of play that characterized the Nittany Lions’ special teams. Bradley played on squads that went a combined 38-10, including back-to-back 11-1 seasons. Game No. 48 was a 14-7 loss to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 1979.
It is now 33 years, 403 games, 287 victories and 718 miles from the Superdome to the Cotton Bowl later.
As an assistant coach he helped Penn State to a 286-111-2 record. Overall, while playing and coaching for the Nittany Lions, he’s amassed a record of 325-123-2. That’s 450 games, a remarkable No. 2 in Penn State football history, behind Joe Paterno. After Monday’s TicketCity Bowl, Bradley will be a dozen games ahead of Fran Ganter, the man who is No. 3 at 439.
What do these numbers mean, Bradley was asked a few hours after meeting the press on Sunday at the Cotton Bowl.
“They mean that I have been blessed,” he said. “If I never get to be the permanent head coach, that won’t define me. What those numbers represent – the loyalty to one institution, its people and its football players -- that says what I am all about.”
As the interim head coach Bradley has been 1-2. It’s been a tortuous 54-day run, a baptism under hell fire. He got the job he always wanted, but seemingly it was never really his to keep.
“I did what I needed to do for these players. The other part doesn't matter,” he’ll look you in the eye with those blazing powder blue eyes, with all the skills he’s accumulated as an artful recruiter, and try to make you believe it.
But he can't. Of course it matters.
Since 1975, for Bradley, Penn State was all that mattered.
No one has been more Penn State than Tom Bradley.