Nov 11, 2011, 10:54 AM EST
As the title and video would indicate, this post relates to an on-field incident involving Joe Paterno and Mike McQueary and a mid-90s game against Rutgers. In no way is this intended to minimize or trivialize the sickening revelations of the past week. But with all that’s been going on, I found myself thinking back to a moment I distinctly remember from 1995, mostly because of how odd it was in the Penn State standard I had come to know at the time. It was absolutely the oddest thing I’d personally ever seen from a Penn State team.
Here’s what happened, from the perspective of a student who watched it unfold with more than just a win on his mind.
In 1995, I was a sophomore at Penn State. There are few places in the country where being a college football fan was more fun. My friends and I lived for college football Saturdays.
Among the many reasons we loved watching college football was that we’d occasionally have more than just a passing interest and would drop a few shekels on a game.
On Saturday, September 23, 1995, we happened to take Penn State -20 against Rutgers at the Meadowlands. Penn State was still riding high from an undefeated 1994 season. They had won 19 straight games entering the matchup with Rutgers.
Rutgers entered the game 1-1, having dropped its opener to Duke(!). They regrouped the next week and beat Navy 27-17.
Rutgers had OK talent. Future Jets and Dolphins quarterback Ray Lucas was on that team as a backup signal caller. Marco Battaglia, a tight end who went on to play parts of seven seasons in the NFL, was Rutgers’ main weapon.
Regardless, sixth-ranked Penn State had an overwhelming talent advantage.
The players take the field, and a shootout ensues. The third quarter ends with Penn State holding a 38-27 advantage. My friends and I brace ourselves for a roller-coaster fourth quarter.
Penn State finally puts a stranglehold on things and leads 52-34 with a little over a minute left. For the most part, JoePa has taken his starters out the game.
Freshman running back Curtis Enis carried 15 times for 145 yards. Bobby Engram had a huge day, hauling in 8 catches for 175 yards. And starting QB Wally Richardson, who had a nice day, going 16-26 for 252 yards, was also pulled from the game.
Enter State College native and Penn State backup quarterback Mike McQueary. My friends and I, having watched so many Penn State games in the past, immediately recognize McQueary’s introduction into the game as a sign that JoePa is calling off the dogs.
McQueary will take a knee, run out the clock, and we’ll lose our bet.
We don’t even bother hoping against hope that Penn State will score some late b.s. touchdown. Knowing that Penn State never runs up the score we are resigned to the fact that Penn State won’t cover.
We’re watching the clock tick down. Penn State’s offense, with so many backups in the game, looks completely disorganized. They look like they’re scrambling to simply take a knee. A wide receiver runs on the field late. It was kind of bizarre, but we didn’t think anything of it. McQueary was going to take a knee.
He finally gets under center and takes the snap. In an instant he backpedals and passes his fullback. He then play-actions to his tailback. What the hell is going on here? Why didn’t he take a knee? Why didn’t he hand to his fullback for a patented Penn State fullback belly? Why didn’t he give it to his tailback? Wait, is he about to throw this ball?
The next thing we know, the ball is in the air. My friends and I are watching in stunned silence. What is going on? The ball comes down and lands right in the hands of Chris Campbell, the receiver who came on the field late. Campbell catches it at the 15 and goes in for the touchdown.
Did that just happen? Penn State, up 18 with a little over a minute left, just threw the football? Penn State, pending the extra point, now leads by 24? They’re going to cover?
My friends and I are beside ourselves. The game clock finally reaches zero, and it’s time for the coaches’ post-game handshake.
Joe Paterno races out to midfield to meet Rutgers coach Doug Graber. Graber, understandably upset, says something along the lines of “I didn’t think you played like that.”
In hindsight, our gambling interests aside, this is where it gets truly interesting. Paterno, clearly taken aback that someone had the audacity to question his integrity, his sportsmanship, his program, immediately fires back with what at the time was the most un-Paterno thing imaginable. He cursed.
This was stunning. JoePa didn’t curse that we knew of. If he did, he did it behind closed doors, not in front of ESPN’s cameras.
The entire thing, from McQueary throwing the pass, to Penn State running up the score, to Paterno cursing at Graber was so bizarre. After the game, Paterno defended his backup quarterback.
My friends and I always joked that McQueary had to have had money on the game. In reality, the decision to throw was probably the result of dropping in the polls the year before. The undefeated 1994 team dropped from #1 to #2 in the polls after allowing Indiana to score two late meaningless touchdowns in what was a blowout. It cost Penn State a share of the National Championship, which was awarded to Nebraska.
Regardless of the rationale, it remained the most un-Penn State thing I ever saw. That is, of course, until this week.
Sixteen years later, although in completely unrelated fashion, it’s Paterno and McQueary again.
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