As any frustrated Nittany Lion knows, east is east and Penn State is a victim of its geography. And an awful lot of people are going to be mugged because of it. Joe Paterno's kids are getting thin-skinned about being patted on the head and their Lambert trophies while the big boys wrestle over the serious business of college football. Last week, Stanford Coach Jack Christiansen, who should have known better, said his team was going to beat Penn State because it had worked hard and it was dedicated, as if that was all that was needed. A sign in the Stanford dressing room asked: HAS ANYONE HAD A LITTLE NITTANY LION LATELY? It was good fun, and as John Lindblom, a columnist for the San Jose News, wrote, "Penn State once again ranks as the No. 1 team in the East...but in reality that's more a matter of being least bad."
In reality, and before a national television audience, Penn State knocked Stanford silly 20-6, and as usual discovered it had not proved a thing. "We can't let this get us down," Christiansen said afterward. "We've got to play tougher teams than this." Maybe so, but if there is anything out there tougher than the Penn State defense, it should not be allowed loose without a muzzle.
When Paterno heard of Christiansen's remark he only laughed, conceding, "They do have to play Michigan and USC." He said it with a trace of envy.
More than its Eastern image, Penn State's cross is a soft schedule made up years ago under another and less ambitious regime. Texas grows fat on people like Rice and TCU and Baylor, and it matters not. Notre Dame dines on Army, Navy and Pitt, and it bothers no one. But let Penn State take on Ohio University and sirens go off.
September 23, 1973
"Thank God for the 11th game," said Paterno, who had hustled out and made dates with Tennessee and Stanford—and been turned down by Texas and Ohio State—while waiting for the current contracts to run out. "We've got to get some people off our schedule." One is Temple, which somehow is going to begin a six-year series with Penn State in 1975, an opponent Paterno would gladly trade, with cash, for the saltwater rights in Death Valley.
Temple came up with its Penn State contract in the mid-'60s, after the Philadelphia school, along with the University of Pittsburgh, became state-related. Temple has a law school, Penn State does not, and some believe that political muscle was used to forge the agreement. Temple denies it. Temple Athletic Director Ernie Casale says the pact was made after he was approached by Penn State. No matter how the union was formed, Paterno does not like to talk about it. Understandably.
But all that is in the future. Last week there was Stanford, not Temple, on the other side of the field, and Paterno was more than a little concerned. Getting a strong school on your schedule is one thing; winning the game is another. State's fall practice had gone well until heat and high humidity moved in for 10 days across the East and players began to complain that they had nothing in their legs. "You're conning me—it's not hot," said Paterno, conning them. They worked and he worried. There were other anxieties: off to the pros was All-America Quarterback John Hufnagel, and with him two other All-Americas, Defensive End Bruce Bannon and Linebacker John Skorupan. Nor was anyone counting heavily on Randy Crowder, a strong 6'2", 235-pound defensive tackle who was coming off knee surgery after a basketball injury.
In to replace Hufnagel was Tom Shuman, a junior who had played only long enough the year before to complete eight of 21 passes. He can throw a ball 70 yards with a flick but is embarrassed when anyone suggests he has a super arm.
"I don't think it's super," he says. "It's the fine coaching. They taught me the correct technique and that's all it is."
"You should see the guy who taught him the technique," grins Paterno. "He can't throw a ball 20 yards."
One other Penn State problem was that no one knew how to figure Stanford. The Cardinals had Mike Boryla, a good passing quarterback, and John Winesberry, an impressive runner-receiver with 9.7 speed. While Stanford had lost 25 lettermen, the word from the West Coast was that Christiansen had plugged all the holes with an army of talented junior college stars.
"Who can tell?" said Paterno. "But in fairness to Stanford, Christiansen doesn't know much more than we do. You can fill your lineup with junior college kids, but you never know how they'll do until they play."
So State flew west, where Stanford was waiting with its army of JC players that turned out to include only one starter. "They must have mixed us up with UCLA," said Christiansen. "We thought we had a lot of fine freshmen coming up, so we didn't go after JCs."
Christiansen's main concern had been finding an offensive line that could protect Boryla, who was fourth among the nation's passers last year. At the same time he had been sacked enough to lose 213 yards. For better or worse, all but two of that offensive line had graduated.
"We'll be a lot tougher this year," promised Bill Reid, who was returning at center. "Last year we just ran around in circles. And we had a great line, real super-studs. The line coach worked us like dogs, but he never told us who to block. He was a one-year wonder. He's not around anymore."
The trouble was, Reid would discover, that all the blocking assignments the line now had were designed for last year's Penn State defenses. But Penn State gave Stanford a 1972 look and then suddenly opened up a whole new bag of stunts. As a rule the Lions seldom blitz, but here they were pouring in on every other play. Boryla went down and down and down; nine times in all for minus 47 yards. Understandably, he began to hurry his throws. When he did connect, the receivers were ripped immediately.
Surprisingly, when Stanford did run at Penn State it was up the middle into the arms of Crowder and Greg Murphy and Mike Hartenstine. What these three missed was quickly scooped up by a set of quick linebackers led by Ed O'Neil and Tom Hull. Stanford's runners went at Penn State 29 times and lost eight yards.
It was the defense that gave the visitors their first score. With Doug Allen leading the way it blocked a Stanford punt out of the end zone for a safety and a 2-0 Penn State lead. Moments later Jim Bradley recovered a fumble 10 yards from the Stanford goal and Shuman rifled a pass to Gary Hayman for the touchdown.
So at halftime it was 10-0 and Joe Ruetz, the Stanford athletic director, was convinced. "I can see now why Penn State is ranked where it is," he said. "They really hit. They intimidate you. We've got good receivers, but they know if the ball touches their hands they are about to be belted."
In the third quarter Penn State turned one drive over almost solely to top Running Back John Cappelletti, who surprised everyone with his first pass as a college player, a 17-yarder to Chuck Herd that carried to the Stanford four. Then, using the powerful legs that gained 1,117 yards last year, Cappelletti scored in three short bursts, the last from the two.
Late in the fourth quarter Stanford salvaged some pride with a score set up by a pass interception and nailed down with Boryla throwing eight yards to Glen Stone. "Three things beat us," Boryla said after the game. "The Penn State defense, the way I played and our game plan. Can you believe they told us to run up the middle and to use roll-out passes? Those are the two things we can't do. The coaches decided that everything we normally could do, we would not be able to do against Penn State. So here I have Winesberry, a 9.7 sprinter, and all I can do is run him up the middle." He walked off shaking his head.
"Funny game," Paterno said. "We didn't run as well as we thought we had to and we threw better than I thought we would. Shuman played better than we had any right to expect." He lit a cigar and puffed with contentment. "You know, winning aside, I really enjoyed today. Isn't this a class place out here? Wasn't it great in the stadium? And bringing the kids way out here. They love it. Tonight they are going into San Francisco. I told them to behave."
Paterno looked around for an ashtray. He grinned. "Some of them will behave, some won't—you know how that is. I wish we could come out here every year. We've got three more games with Stanford, but they are all at Penn State."
A puzzled listener suggested that was a strange contract.
"That's the way they wanted it," he said. He frowned at his cigar. "They want to make a trip East every year. Just like we should be making a trip West. Instead of going to Philadelphia."