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Before This Week, the Most Un-Penn State Thing I Ever Saw Involved… Joe Paterno and Mike McQueary

Nov 11, 2011, 10:54 AM EDT

Penn State's Joe Paterno and Mike McQueary are embroiled in the fallout from the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse case. My first memory of Paterno and McQueary dates back to 1995 Penn State Rutgers game where Paterno cursed at Doug Graber

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.

  1. Peanus Steenblatter - Mar 5, 2014 at 12:41 PM

    Interesting!

    Reply
  2. cantbeserious - Mar 5, 2014 at 1:22 PM

    “Knowing Penn State never runs up the score”

    How about the week prior to the Rutgers game when PSU beat Iowa 61-21. Or how about in the opener that season when PSU beat Minnesota 56-3. Or how about in the 1993 (year prior) when PSU beat Maryland 70-7.

    Yeah Penn State nevvvvvvvver ran up the score when Joe Paterno was coaching. Thats funny.

    Almost as funny as saying Joe Paterno would never curse. Haha, Okay! Sheesh. Sounds like a little too much folklore and a little less truth to me.

    Reply
    • cantbeserious - Mar 5, 2014 at 1:34 PM

      I was mistakenly looking at 1994… In 1995, PSU beat Temple 66-14 the week before the Rutgers game.

      So yeah, Joe Paterno never ran up the score….. Ever

      Reply
      • weblexphil - Mar 6, 2014 at 11:38 AM

        Cantbeserious-

        You are absolutely right. Not to say that the author of this story might not have some merit in how it relates to this game…I think this is once again the case of ‘Delusional Penn State’ fan that believe Joe Paterno never did anything wrong in his life (some sort of sick brainwashing when you drink the water in State College).

        I say it might have merit because Paterno looks somewhat puzzled by the throw/touchdown. It looks like he says “what happened?” to his Assistants. He most definitely doesn’t celebrate the score in anyway (not even a smile, fistpump, etc).

        But to say Penn State never “ran up the score” under Paterno, is laughable.

    • realist - Mar 7, 2014 at 10:44 AM

      There is a difference between a blowout and running up the score. If Penn State had the game in hand, the 2nd and 3rd string would go in, and it would be 95% running plays. However, it’s not like any football team punts on 1st down when they are up. It’s a chance for the backups to get some time, and Penn State would rarely throw. However, they occasionally called a short pass just to throw a bone to the backup QBs. If the backups scored, so be it. It would be more disrespectful to punt on 1st down and keep the score closer, than to let the backups run the ball. Sometimes the backups would end up still scoring points. Not a lot you can do, but put in the 4th string and the walk-ons.

      How could you not understand the difference?

      Reply
  3. deepelemblue - Mar 6, 2014 at 3:43 PM

    guys i think you’re mistaking him stating something he believed as a fact then as him saying he still believes it now.

    penn state fans really did and im sure some still do that joepa did not run up the score. what the author wrote is a story mostly about his shock seeing this happen because he really truly believed penn state football was not like that.

    so give him a break he’s not being a delusional cultist penn state fan he is saying that at the time when he was a STUDENT at penn state he bought into the mythos and this story describes his surprise and not a little bit of dismay at being shown the myths weren’t true

    Reply
  4. bulldogmomanne - Mar 6, 2014 at 10:44 PM

    I will always wonder if Joe Paterno died by his own (or his accomplice’s) hand. Pretty coincidental that when the sex abuse scandal broke wide open, landing Paterno in the middle, sinking his sainthood and exploding the mythos, AND just as he likely would have had to testify in court and possibly be indicted…..he DIED!! And he wasn’t even showing signs of kicking off….he was actually preparing for the next season. Just in the middle of him being sent to reputation Hell, he dies! Very suspicious. More suspicious even than this point spread cover.

    Reply
  5. Jim1980 - Mar 31, 2014 at 8:47 PM

    I was at that game, and I was also stunned by the late touchdown pass. I was in the end zone the pass was thrown to, and even though I am PSU ’84 and had no $ on the game, I too was sickened.
    We PSU never run up the score!!! We beat Cincy 80-7 but it was all running plays and one of the Sacca brothers scoring on a 80 yard bootleg.
    I agreed with Gruber cursing out JoePa!!
    How ironic Paterno/McQueary in the news so many years later
    Doug Gruber probably had a quiet chuckle to himself over the Sandusky mess.
    Still Penn State proud though!

    Reply

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