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Top 10 Bowl Game Moments in Penn State Football History

by on December 22, 2014 12:40 AM

Seeing Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Allen fall off a training table in the losers’ locker room mid-interview at the 1982 Fiesta Bowl.

Standing next to Keith Jackson after we had both raced to a Superdome men’s room between the third and fourth quarters of the 1983 Sugar Bowl to empty our bladders before getting our fill of a thrilling finish.

Watching from the sidelines, as mystified as Penn State’s defenders were by the speed of Southern Cal as it scored 24 second-quarter points in the 2009 Rose Bowl.

Gazing to the west at the bright lights of Dallas while standing atop the Cotton Bowl Stadium press box on New Year’s Eve, the night before Houston punched its 2012 TicketCity Bowl win.

Those are among my favorite personal memorable moments while covering a few of Penn State’s 44 bowl games. (PSU is 27-15-2 overall.)

But they likely don’t make anyone else’s list, least all of that of Penn State broadcasting legend Fran Fisher. He’s been to 27 Penn State bowl games over the years, calling many of them on Penn State's official radio broadcasts. In all, Fran’s been to 13 different bowls, including six Fiesta Bowls (“All of them were wins,” he explained the other day), four Sugar Bowls (“Well, we didn’t win all of those,” he quipped) and two national championships.

On the evening of Jan. 1, 1983, Fran was in the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans. Working. In those days, the radio networks of the participating teams could broadcast the game live. So there was Fran, in his 16th year as part of the Penn State radio network broadcast crew, doing play-by-play alongside color analyst John Grant.

Fran’s call after the Nittany Lions won their first national championship by defeating Georgia 27-23 that night was simple and simply eloquent, as he shouted above the din: “Penn State’s national champion. Penn State is the national champion.”

It was a magical moment for Penn State, but it didn’t match the one that came earlier in the fourth quarter. For my money, Todd Blackledge’s touchdown pass in the fourth quarter of the Sugar Bowl is No. 1 on a list of most memorable moments in Penn State postseason history. My Top 10 list follows. (These are not entire games, but rather plays or events that stand out the most in Penn State’s rich bowl history.)


1. THAT CATCH BY GARRITY, 1983 Sugar Bowl, Penn State 27, Georgia 23. It was five plays into the fourth quarter when, on a first-and-10 from the Georgia 48, Blackledge threw a 47-yard strike to flanker Gregg Garrity. He grabbed the ball in the end zone, fully extending his 5-foot-10 frame to make a diving catch. The ensuing celebration ended up on the cover of Sports Illustrated, with the headline, “No. 1 At Last!” With the score, Penn State led 27-17, and held on to beat Georgia and Herschel Walker. (Watch the play here, which concludes with Fran’s game-ending call.)

2. GIFTO’S INTERCEPTION, 1987 Fiesta Bowl; Penn State 14, Miami (Fla.) 10 – Penn State intercepted Miami QB Vinny Testaverde, the Heisman Trophy winner, five times in the “Duel in the Desert.” The last one came on the game’s final play, with 18 seconds remaining and Miami facing a fourth-and-goal from the PSU 13. Testaverde looked in the end zone, but didn’t see Penn State linebacker Pete Giftopoulos, who made his second pick of the night and sealed Penn State’s second national title in five seasons. (See it here at the 11:26 mark.)



3. THE GOAL LINE STAND, 1979 Sugar Bowl; Alabama 14, Penn State – With ’Bama up by a touchdown in the fourth quarter, Penn State had the ball inside the 1-yard line, but twice failed to score. On third down, Matt Suhey’s dive was six inches short, then on fourth down Mike Guman was stopped by Alabama’s Barry Krauss. The Tide held and Penn State, 11-0 and No. 1 entering the bowl game, literally fell inches short. (Watch the last two plays here, starting at the 3:00 mark.)

4. BOWL BAN LIFTED, Sept. 8, 2014 – After NCAA sanctions kept Penn State from playing in a bowl game in 2012 (after a 8-4 season) and in 2013 (7-5), the Nittany Lions’ bowl eligibility was restored early into the 2014 season. The penalties were originally to have lasted through the end of the 2015 season. The ban only made Penn State eligible for a bowl game; it still had to win six games to qualify. The Nittany Lions did, going 6-6, and earning a berth in the Dec. 27 Pinstripe Bowl against Boston College.

5. KI-JANA’S BURST, 1995 Rose Bowl, Penn State 38, Oregon 20 – The Nittany Lions, owners of perhaps the most explosive offense in the history of college football, entered the bowl game undefeated but locked out of a possible national championship. Playing with an overwhelming fury that characterized Penn State’s explosive season, Carter burst off tackle on Penn State’s very first play from scrimmage. He bounced off one Oregon defender and raced 83 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead. (Watch it here.)

6. BRUNO AT THE STEAK FRY, 1987 Fiesta Bowl, Penn State 14, Miami (Fla.) – At a western-style steak fry in the days leading up to the bowl game, Penn State punter John Bruno made a joke in poor taste, noting that Penn State was a family “because the white players let the black players eat at the training table once a week.” Miami’s massive Jerome Brown grabbed the microphone, and ripped off his jumpsuit, showing the combat fatigues he had on underneath. Brown shouted, “Did the Japanese have dinner at Pearl Harbor before they bombed them? Let’s go.” With that, the Miami players marched out of the dinner. Bruno grabbed the microphone and asked, “Excuse me, but didn’t the Japanese lose the war?”

7. KANSAS’ 12TH MAN, 1969 Orange Bowl, Penn State 15, Kansas 14 -- With eight seconds remaining in the game, quarterback Chuck Burkhart scored on a three-yard TD run to pull Penn State within one point, 14-13. Joe Paterno opted to go for the win with a two-point play from scrimmage. Burkhart’s pass to running back Bobby Campbell fell short on a two-point conversion that would have won the game. But a penalty was called on Kansas for having 12 men on the field (game films would show that was actually the case for four plays). Penn State had a second chance. This time, with the ball at the one-and-a-half-yard line, Campbell ran around left end for the two points and the victory.

8. THE ALMOST-PERFECT '47 TEAM, 1948 Cotton Bowl, Penn State 13, Southern Methodist 13 – Penn State entered the bowl game 9-0, with a defense that allowed only 27 points and 153 rushing yards in nine games. PSU tied the game 13-13 in the third quarter on a 6-yard TD pass from Elwood Petchel to Wally Tripplett. That set up an extra-point try by Ed Czekaj (who later become Penn State’s athletic director). With some controversy, the kick was ruled no good.

9. KILMER’S KATCH, 2006 Orange Bowl, Penn State 26, Florida State 23 – In a square-off that was highlighted by coaching legends and septuagenarians Paterno and Bobby Bowden, the Nittany Lions won in three overtimes to finish No. 3 in the final polls, their highest ranking since 1999. Quarterback Michael Robinson was named MVP, as his 24-yard TD pass to a leaping Ethan Kilmer to end the first half was a thing of beauty. Kilmer, who high jumped 6-foot-6-1/2 inches in high school, grabbed the ball over an FSU defender for the score and a 14-13 halftime lead. (Watch it here.)

10. HAIL TO THE TAXI, 1923 Rose Bowl, Southern California 14, Penn State 3 – This was Penn State’s first postseason game and they almost didn’t make it. Penn State’s 29-person traveling party left State College on Dec. 19, according to the Penn State football media guide, and after stops in Chicago and the Grand Canyon made it to Pasadena on Christmas Eve. On New Year's Day, after watching the Rose Bowl parade, the team took taxis to the stadium and got stuck in traffic. They arrived 10 minutes after the scheduled kickoff time, hurried through warm-ups and then finished the bowl game in the moonlight. (That may explain Penn State’s six yards net passing and three interceptions.)


 1959 Liberty Bowl – Galen Hall, the backup quarterback to Hesiman Trophy runner-up Richie Lucas, threw an 18-yard TD pass to Roger Kochman on a fake field goal attempt for a 7-0 victory over Alabama. 1972 Sugar Bowl – John Cappelletti is sidelined by a virus and a 102-degree temperature. Oklahoma won “The Virus Game,” 13-0. 1974 Gator Bowl – Chuck Herd makes a backhanded, underhanded one-hand catch on a pass from Tom Shuman and races 72 yards for a TD in Penn State’s 16-9 win over LSU.

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Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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Centre Foundation Awards 17 grants for $33,000
December 21, 2014 3:45 PM
by Gazette Staff
Centre Foundation Awards 17 grants for $33,000
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