As the incredible win number 400 looms large this Saturday versus Northwestern, Joe Paterno is deservedly in the spotlight. He’s had some tough losses and great wins over the course of his 44-year head coaching career, but today, we honor him with a look back at his top 10 most memorable games. All 10 after the jump.
1. 1986 NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
Penn State 14 – Miami 10
Penn State was a huge underdog to the flashy Hurricane team, but guts and grit got the job done, as Joe Pa captured his second National title and 4th undefeated season. It was a defensive battle that ended in a Penn State victory after tallying 5 sacks and 5 interceptions. The game is an all-time classic and one of the most notable upsets in college football history.
2. 1982 NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
Penn State 27 – Georgia 23
Do you believe Penn State went 96 years before winning their first ever title? (Are you sure this team’s not from Philly???) PSU rode Curt Warner to victory (pause) in the 1983 Sugar Bowl, defeating Georgia for their first ever Championship. Their prize: they got to go to the White House and meet legendary President actor, Ronald Reagan.
3. 1974 ORANGE BOWL
Penn State 16 – LSU 9
After this win, Joe Pa came out and said, “this was the best team I ever coached.” Penn State went 12-0 for the first time in school history, but only finished #5 in the polls. Stupid polls! As a consolation prize, John Cappelletti was awarded the 1973 Heisman Trophy. He still remains Penn State’s only man to take home that honor (damn you, Carson Palmer!).
4. 1969 ORANGE BOWL
Penn State 15 – Kansas 14
#3 ranked Penn State defeated #6 Kansas to capture Joe Paterno’s first undefeated season. PSU trailed Kansas with 2 minutes left, but rallied to get it to 13-14. Penn State went for two, failed, but were bailed out by a defensive penalty. They went for it again, and Bob Campbell ran it in for the W. Joe Pa racked up 6 undefeated seasons in his time, but only claimed 2 National Championships. Doesn’t seem right, does it?
5. 2006 ORANGE BOWL
Penn State 26 – Florida State 23
Talk about story lines… #3 Penn State took on #22 Florida State. More importantly though, Joe Paterno took on Bobby Bowden in a clash of #1 coach and #2 coach all-time. Despite being close friends, the two men had remarkably never squared off n the gridiron. Not only did the game live up to the hype, but it took 3 overtimes and multiple missed kicks for Penn State to knock off the tough Seminole team. Both teams did their respective coaches proud.
6. 1970 ORANGE BOWL
Penn State 10 – Missouri 3
After President Nixon politic-ed for Texas to be the National Champions, an undefeated Penn State didn’t even get a chance to battle Texas in the Cotton Bowl (actually the players voted to reject the offer, citing racial discontent). In those days, National Champs were determined before Bowl games, and Texas won the honor primarily because of an odd combination of Nixon’s backing and racist issues in the south. PSU recorded 7 interceptions versus Missouri, while Texas barely squeaked out a 15-14 win over Arkansas. It was, remarkably, PSU’s 30th game in a row without a loss. Needless to say, Paterno was not happy about losing the National title the way he did (he still gives Mack Brown grief for it even though he had nothing to do with it). In 1973, Joe remarked in his famously sarcastic manner, “I’d like to know how could the President know so little about Watergate in 1973 and so much about college football in 1969?”
7. REVENGE ON TEXAS – 1972 COTTON BOWL
Penn State 30 – Texas 6
Penn State finally accepted a bid to play Texas in the Cotton Bowl in 1971. The stage was set for what should have been the 1970 Cotton Bowl. Problem was, after accepting the bid, Penn State ended up losing to Tennessee 31-11 in the final game of their season. This led people across the nation to doubt Penn State’s program and predict a major rout in favor of Texas. After trailing 6-3 at halftime, PSU came out of the locker room firing on all cylinders and blew Texas out of the water, 30-6. Paterno would later say of this game, “I don’t think we’ve ever had a game that we had to win more than this one. There was so much that had been done that was ready to go down the drain if Texas had beaten us.”
8. THE RECORD-SETTING WIN
Penn State 29 – Ohio State 27
On October 27, 2001, Joe Paterno finally became the most winning coach in college football history. He passed Bear Bryant on the all-time list with 324 wins. Zach Mills led a second half comeback after trailing 18-0 in the 3rd. Jimmy Kennedy’s blocked field goal with 2:55 left sealed the comeback rally. Joe was carried off the field in celebratory fashion.
9. BIG WIN OVER HATED RIVAL
Penn State 17 – Ohio St. 10
October 8, 2005. Penn State was ranked #18 and took on #6 Ohio State in front of a night home crowd of 109,000+. The Lions had not beaten the Buckeyes since 2001, and Penn State was coming off the worst stretch of Joe Pa’s coaching career. Tamba Hali sacked Troy Smith in the final 2:00, causing him to fumble and giving Penn State the victory. This win was the one that really stamped the “we’re back!” seal on college football. If it weren’t for a last-second loss to Michigan the following week, PSU would have competed for a National title. They finished the 2005 season 11-1, ranked #3 in the country.
Note: I had the good fortune of attending this game. To this day, this game was the loudest and most exciting sporting event I have ever attended.
10. 1995 ROSE BOWL
Penn State 38 – Oregon 20
Another undefeated season, another 2nd place finish… Penn State dominated Oregon in the Rose Bowl, but still finished #2 in the AP poll to Nebraska. Bullshit! Ki-Jana Carter’s 83-yard scamper on the 1st play from scrimmage is still one of the greatest plays I remember watching as a youngster.
BONUS – JOE’S FIRST GAME AS HEAD COACH
Penn State 15 – Maryland 7
Believe it or not, there were over 5,000 empty seats for this one (and this was way before the stadium held 100,000+). Joe had to start somewhere, and this was it. After the game, opposing coach Lou Saban told Joe, “You really stunk. We just stunk a lot more.” Well, Lou, Joe’s stunk his way into uncharted history that will most likely never be broken, and you were victim #1.