This happened last November, on a crisp Saturday afternoon at Southern Illinois University. Penn State had just won the national championship in women's field hockey, the school's first, and the players were laughing it up in a room at the Holiday Inn in Carbondale. Some of the accompanying parents had thoughtfully iced down a few bottles of champagne and Coach Gillian Rattray was permitting the team a glass or two of bubbly. And that's when someone yelled, "Shhhh, everybody! We're on the phone. We're calling home." The room fell silent.
"Yes, it's collect," the girl said into the phone. "My name is Candy Finn. And it's collect to Joe Paterno."
Coach Rattray took a swallow of champagne. Joe Paterno? The legendary football coach, now also the athletic director? Collect to his home'! Would he appreciate the interruption on what was—for him—a rare Saturday afternoon off during the football season?
"Hey, Joe!" the girl yelled into the phone. "Guess what? Penn State won the title! Yes, we did. Beat California in the final. We scored twice in the last six minutes and won 2-1. Yes, uh-huh, we're all fine. O.K. We'll see you when we get home, Joe."
November 9, 1981
For all his eminence, Paterno was delighted, of course. What college athletic director wouldn't welcome such a report at any time of the day or night? Besides, he knew the caller. Out of all the players on his women's teams, only Candy Finn would do something like that—and reverse the charges.
That was last year, and now there's a good chance there'll be another call just like it, from Berkeley on Nov. 21, the final day of this year's nationals. That's because—Hey, Joe!—Penn State's Lady Lions are currently 15-1-1 in a 17-game season and rolling toward another title. If not a title, another outstanding year. The one upset, a 3-2 loss to Temple a couple of weeks ago, was Penn State's first field hockey defeat in 33 games. And most of this prominence comes thanks to Candy Finn, tousled star not only of field hockey but also lacrosse. As she charges through her senior year she may well be the best woman team athlete in the country.
Finn is an All-America in both sports. In lacrosse, she is the top scorer in Penn State history and in the nation, with 240 points in 42 games for a 5.3 per-game average. She is a three-time member of the U.S. lacrosse team; was top scorer in the April 1980 series with England that returned the world championship to this country; and she has been the big gun on the two national championship teams Penn State has had since she came to University Park. In field hockey, Finn has just about every school record; she has 82 goals and 15 assists in 79 games. Her career point total tops anybody's in the AIAW's Division 1 and probably the whole country—but nobody keeps official national field hockey stats. Two more items: What Finn left unsaid in last November's phone call was that she had scored all of Penn State's five goals in the semifinal and championship games, including a hat trick against Delaware in the semis. And hidden in there is the clincher: Candy Finn is the only college athlete in the country to have scored the points that won national championships in two sports. If anyone can top that, she or he ought to consider getting right on the phone to Joe Paterno.
Finn's response to talk about her prowess is a shrug and a sort of wicked giggle. She doesn't try to analyze her moves: Umm, jeez, the ability more or less came with the body, you know, like standard equipment. Besides, she's been doing this all her life. Back at Penncrest High in Media, Pa., Finn played lacrosse, field hockey and basketball. She was captain of all three teams and led all three to league titles. "Sometimes I'm not really aware of about half the stuff I'll do on the field," she says ingenuously. "You know, like I'll make a tough shot and say, 'Well, well, did I do that?' "
At 5'8", 135 pounds, the 21-year-old Finn looks long-legged for her size as she strides onto a playing field. Warming up, she moves around sleepily, occasionally gazing off into the distance and absently twirling her hockey stick like a baton. But when the game starts, Finn plays like someone who has been studying a secret cache of old Bob Cousy game films. Look this way and pass that way; the head fake and then the stutter step, all of it somehow transferred to a grassy field in the middle of Pennsylvania. "I'm sort of freelancing as I go," she says.
The Lady Lions are an attack-finesse team, says Rattray. That means they'll blast downfield to the goal, knocking aside everything in their path, and then look for the perfect shot. "We care how we win," Rattray says. The players chatter constantly and, at left link, Finn must sort out all of the alarums and warnings, like "Look right!" and "Behind you," until finally, she says, she'll mutter to a teammate, "O.K., I'm going through." And through she goes. She plays defense only if it will help. Ordinarily, she says—giggle—"I only get in the way."
It's that honest, laughing admission of human frailty that does it. Finn never tries to shine up her image to suit the occasion.
Question: It says here somewhere that nutrition and a balanced diet are important to the success of your team. What did you have for breakfast?
Answer. Who, me? Two peanut butter crackers and a Pepsi.
Before the final game of the regular season last Saturday, Finn consumed two hamburgers, a double order of French fries, a milk shake and a Coke. Then she went out and scored both Penn State goals in a 2-1 win over Ursinus.
Indeed, Finn says, "If I had to cut my entire food budget in half to economize, all I'd have to do is cut out pizza and cheese sticks and French fries."
There's something familiar about such straightforwardness, something faintly dèjà vu, perhaps, as one watches this girl with the untroubled brow and tumbled dark hair and the wry half-smile.... Of course. The name and the girl are a perfect match. When you think Candy Finn you think Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden, girl detectives. Someone might make a bundle with a new series of mystery novels for subteen girls:
Candy Finn and the Great Lacrosse Caper.
Candy Finn and the Goal-line Assault and Battery.
Candy Finn and the Missing Nittany Lion.
The connection makes even more sense when one considers that Finn has always pretty much set her own course, just as good old Trixie Belden might have. Candy is the youngest of the Finns, with two brothers and two sisters. Her parents split up, and while Mom Georganna worked as a nurse to support them, Candy more or less looked after herself. "Nobody else around our neighborhood had a girl my age to play with," she says, "so I became a tomboy. In elementary school someone spotted this, well, this natural ability in lacrosse, and told me, 'Someday people are going to envy you for the way you'll play.' Envy me? Wow! Who would ever envy me? So that's what sent me to the cemetery."
"It was right near where we lived," she says. "And I used to go over there all the time, every day. I'd stay hours at a time, sometimes until late evening, practicing my lacrosse shots. Overhead. Sidearm, behind the back. I would bang the ball off the headstones."
Perfect. Candy Finn and the Graveyard Goal.
Finn went on to become a high school whiz. "Mom couldn't afford to send me to college," she says, "so I had to win a full scholarship." She did. And now, a stack of school records later, her collegiate career is winding down. November's postseason play will give her another five games if Penn State rolls through the regionals and nationals again. Then a restless winter until March, and her final lacrosse season, one she hopes will bring back the national championship that Penn State won in her freshman and sophomore years.
"Too bad there's not a pro circuit," she says. "I could maybe get drafted and become another Herschel Walker or somebody." Wicked giggle. Finn expects to go into advertising, her major, but she'll probably have a run at making the U.S. women's field hockey team for the 1984 Olympics.
As for now: "You know what this place is?" Finn says. "Penn State is Happy Valley. The real world lies out there on the other side of Nittany Mountain. Sometimes it scares me."
It scares everybody, Candy. But you've got one big advantage going in. If something happens to go wrong out there, you can just pick up the telephone. Uh, hello, Joe?