He almost carried Penn State to the mountaintop. As the
quarterback of No. 1-ranked, 11-0 Penn State, Chuck Fusina
marched the Nittany Lions from Happy Valley to the 1979 Sugar
Bowl, where they hoped to become kings of the hill. "It would
have been a perfect ending to a perfect season," says Fusina,
42, "but I guess perfection can only go so far before you fall
like everyone else."

Fall they did. In one of the tightest defensive games ever to
determine a national champion, No. 2 Alabama held Fusina, the
steely passing machine from Pittsburgh, to 163 yards through the
air and intercepted him four times in a 14-7 victory. "It's a
shame because after that we became known as the team that
couldn't finish," says Fusina. "Fifteen years after that game,
all that people remember about that season is that we didn't win
the championship."

Fusina ended his Penn State career as the school's career
passing yardage leader (a record since broken by Tony Sacca),
and his future in football seemed bright. However, he played in
only seven games in his three seasons with the Tampa Bay
Buccaneers, and in August 1982 the Bucs traded him to the San
Francisco 49ers, who released him a week later. Then, in three
seasons with the newly formed USFL's Philadelphia and Baltimore
Stars, from '83 to '85, Fusina led his team to three league
championship games and two titles. In '84 he was voted USFL
Player of the Year and MVP of the championship game. He had
finally made it to the top of a mountain--albeit a smaller
one--but his stay there would be brief. The league folded in
'86, and Fusina was again out of a job. NFL coaches questioned
his athleticism and ability to win in their league and, after
one bench-warming season with the Green Bay Packers, his
football career was over.

Since receiving an M.B.A. from LaSalle in 1987, Fusina has been
a salesman for Advanced Medical Systems, of Philadelphia. "The
sales business is similar to football," says Fusina. "To be on
top you have to have a winning attitude and a successful game
plan."

When he's not working or sharing quiet time at home with his
wife, Jackie, and their children Matt, 15, and Shannon, 11,
Chuck organizes after-school and weekend activities for longtime
Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky's Second Mile program
(SI, Dec. 20). And now and again the old lion in him roars.
"Sometimes on a crisp fall day," Fusina says, "the smell of
football in the air puts me right back on the field."

--Elizabeth Newman

COLOR PHOTO: TONY TOMSIC (COVER) COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS

"All that people remember about the '78 season," says Fusina,
"is that we didn't win the championship."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)