Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Roar, Lions, Roar

The Monk is a happy fat man tonight as Penn State capped a surprisingly excellent season by beating Florida State in the Orange Bowl, 26-23 in 3 OT.

I've been a Penn State fan since watching the Lions in the 1977 Fiesta Bowl win over Arizona State. My only memory of that game, however, is watching Chuck Fusina scramble around and cough up a safety that cut the team's lead to 42-30. I've dealt with some bad disappointments (a 14-9 loss to Pitt on Thanksgiving Friday 1980, the 17-16 loss to 'Bama in '89 on a blocked FG, the 16-15 loss at Notre Dame in 1992 after beating on the Golden Domers for 59 minutes, the screw-job the voters inflicted on the team in 1994); some bad seasons -- especially the last two years when the team had high expectations (2003) and a great defense with no offense (2004). I've enjoyed the high points too, and many of them (1980, 1982, 1987, 1992, 1997 Fiesta Bowls; 1983 Sugar Bowl; 1985, 1990 and '91 wins over Notre Dame; 1981 win at Dan Marino's #1 Pitt team, 48-14; the 2002 40-7 beating of Nebraska; 1986's beatdown of Alabama 23-3 at Birmingham, and more). This one ranks high because of how the team won and who it won with.

The 2005 team came off 7 wins in the past two years for a coach who had averaged 9 wins per in the previous 37 seasons. The AD and some administrators spoke with Joe Paterno after last season and discussed having him step aside. He said go away, I need to fix this and they respected that.

The QB was a first-year starter -- not an ingredient for success for Paterno in the past but Michael Robinson became the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year; the team depended upon freshman receivers, and had an unexpected 1,000-yard runner. The tough defense was nearly as good as the killer defenses that the 1986 and 1991 teams had. Add that up, and the team had a fine season: 11-1, wins over six bowl teams including Ohio State and beatdowns of Minnesota and Wisconsin, a second Big Ten title, and only a 2-point loss to Michigan in a disputed ending that kept Penn State from Paterno's sixth undefeated season (and likely his fifth without a national title to show for it). Add in the loss of that 1,000 RB on the first drive of the night in the Orange Bowl, a trap game against a dangerous low-ranked team with a tough defense (unlike Ohio State's matchup with vastly outmanned Notre Dame), a deadly fumble that killed a drive that would have put the game away and the eventual loss of Butkus Award winner (best linebacker) Paul Posluszny. A tough game to win, which the Lions barely did against a difficult opponent.

So congratulations to the Nittany Lions for a great season and a nice win. Character, class and success -- a fine combination that once again describes Penn State football.

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