In college football's annals of the bizarre, there will always be preserved the moment at left. Perhaps it will be in a chapter entitled The Guilty Dozen or maybe on a page captioned The Night They Made Twelve An Odd Number In Miami. The scene is from the 1969 Orange Bowl, where Penn State beat Kansas 15-14, and it is neither facetious nor inaccurate to say that the Nittany Lions of Coach Joe Paterno accomplished their swashbuckling triumph over the Jayhawks of Coach Pepper Rodgers despite uneven if not overwhelming odds. Penn State was at times outnumbered but never outplayed.
A detailed reconstruction from SPORTS ILLUSTRATED photographs shows without doubt that in the madness that surrounded—indeed, engulfed—the last 80 seconds of the Orange Bowl, Kansas, ahead 14-7, was conducting a brilliant goal-line stand by using 12 men against Penn State's 11. Twice the 12-man defense threw back Penn State runners. Then the baffled Penn State quarterback managed to score by deciding at the last split second to dash away all by himself instead of proceeding with the play he had called. It was not until the two-point conversion try, which Kansas also squashed, that an official noticed there were lots of dark-blue Jayhawk helmets on the field, like a dozen or so.
Pepper Rodgers is a wily, intelligent, outspoken and unpredictable coach and he has concocted some wild defenses in his time, but never one with 12 men. It might be tempting but it isn't practical, as several million New Year's Day television watchers learned when they were aroused from nine hours of unblinking devotion to video bowls by the preposterous events at Miami. What they saw was a Penn State touchdown with 15 seconds left that made the score 14-13. At this point Joe Paterno, who will always go for broke, decided to try for two points. "If we couldn't win, we'd lose," he said later. It looked like lose when Penn State's conversion pass from Quarterback Chuck Burkhart to Halfback Bob Campbell was knocked down by a large flock of Jayhawks.
The flock was too big by one. Foster Grose, the umpire in the five-man team of officials, had counted the Kansas crowd from his position on the orange-colored grass of the end zone. "I knew before the ball was ever snapped," said Grose later, "that I'd have to call a foul. I had my hand on my marker when the play started. It was all very routine, the counting of the players I mean. I do it every play. [Well, almost every play perhaps.] My heart was thumping some, though."
January 13, 1969
It was the fluttering red handkerchief of Umpire Grose that alerted Kansas and the world to the fact that the Jayhawks might not have won the Orange Bowl after all. The penalty was marched off, and this time Penn State, not outnumbered, was able to get its two points on a sweep by Campbell. The result was the 15-14 victory, an undefeated season for Penn State and a No. 2 national ranking in the grand final poll.
The two points would never have been possible without the preceding touchdown, of course, and it was here that there should have been lots of handkerchief waving. The action started as Penn State used its next-to-last time-out with 1:20 left to play and forced Kansas to punt. State set up a thing called 10-Go Charge. "It's a desperation play with 10 men trying to block the kick," said Paterno later. The kick was partially blocked and rolled dead on the 50. On the next play Quarterback Burkhart, whose passing credentials are hardly frightening, leaned back and threw his ball, arm and heart in a giant rainbow arc to Campbell, who made the catch behind a leaping Jayhawk defender and got to the Kansas three.
Now, with a minute left, Paterno outlined the next three plays to Burkhart along the sidelines. "Chuck was positively the coolest guy around," said Paterno. "He kept telling me, 'We'll win, coach. Don't worry.' It was great, but sometimes I wonder if he has quite enough talent to be all that cocky." As it turned out, he did. But while Penn State was gearing up its last offensive thrust, Kansas was sending in its defensive goal-line team. And through a misunderstanding among Jayhawks on the field—two came in, one went out—sports had its worst bookkeeping error since Roberto De Vicenzo added himself out of the Masters. The first two runs against Kansas failed and Burkhart now obediently called the play Paterno had ordered up—something named 56 Scissors, a handoff into the line to Halfback Charlie Pittman. But once the action began, Burkhart changed his mind. Instead of giving the ball to the surprised Pittman, he "did something I've never done before, never even thought of before." He kept the ball, slipped it behind his hip and ran a bootleg around left end for the touchdown, his first as a collegian. Even the 12-man defense couldn't stop that kind of deception. Then came the conversion confusion.
The deeds of the final seconds will surely obscure the fact that this was a well-controlled, reasonably well-played football game between two well-matched teams. In the first quarter the Penn State offense seemed markedly superior to the Kansas defense, but one lost fumble and two interceptions prevented State from scoring until the second quarter. Kansas was sound on offense but not sensational, and the 7-7 halftime score was reasonable. In the second half Kansas Halfback Don Shanklin made one of his patented punt returns, this one for 47 yards to Penn State's seven-yard line to set up the go-ahead touchdown. But that was all Kansas got.
After the game, slouched on a folding chair in his gloom-shrouded dressing room, Pepper Rodgers said through a smile that seemed full of clenched teeth: "Let's just say that it was good show biz—we turned what would've been a dull win for us into an exciting win for them." In addition, Rodgers had qualified himself for the Joe Paterno Memorial Head of Bone Award for losing gambles on fourth-and-one in bowl games. Joe last year wound up with a tie instead of a win in the Gator Bowl because of such a misjudgment with a 17-point lead. Rodgers lost the 1969 Orange Bowl the same way, by passing up a fourth-quarter field-goal try from the Penn State five-yard line with fourth down and one to go. "Yeah, it was a lousy play and I shouldn't have done it," Rodgers said. "So I was wrong. I wish I'd been right."
Still, as Paterno said in the wee hours of the morning following his own review of a TV re-run of the game: "You know, there was enough glory in that game for both teams. No one should be ashamed. We were both great teams tonight." Right. And the players on the field in that last anguishing minute could be especially proud—all 23 of them.