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The Top 20 Moments in Beaver Stadium History

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Nov. 6, 2009

(The following article is adapted from Town & Gown Magazine's 2009 Football Annual. Lou Prato is the retired director of the Penn State All-Sports Museum and the author of four books on Penn State football, including Game Changers: The Greatest Plays in Penn State Football History, published this fall by Triumph Books.)

In its 50 seasons of existence, Beaver Stadium has experienced hundreds of memorable moments. They are forever etched in the minds of those who were there when they happened. They are remembered by the audience that watched them occur on television. And they have been written about in countless newspapers, magazines, and books so that thousands of others could become familiar with them and understand the historical impact and significance of such dramatic moments on the Penn State football program.

Today, the Nittany Lions play their 300th game in Beaver Stadium and perhaps this game will produce another memorable moment. Selecting such moments is both easy and difficult. It is easy to choose a handful that rise above all others. But it is difficult to narrow all those hundreds of great moments down to a short list, and then rank them, when the reasoning for selecting one moment over another is based strictly on a personal preference and criteria that may not be shared by the majority of readers.

My first four choices were rather easy but after that it was much more difficult. Give me another few weeks or a year and I might change my mind again. So, here's my list of the top 20 best moments and worst five moments.

Best Moments:

1 - September 25, 1982 - Penn State 27, Nebraska 24: This was the greatest game ever at Beaver Stadium as quarterback Todd Blackledge led a come-from-behind 65-yard drive in 10 plays with 1:14 left and no timeouts to beat No. 3 Nebraska. His controversial 15-yard sideline pass to Mike McCloskey at the two-yard-line with nine seconds remaining and subsequent touchdown pass to Kirk Bowman had the record crowd of 85,304 celebrating inside and outside the lighted stadium for hours.
2 -September 1, 2001 - Miami 33, Penn State 7: The most emotional and electrifying moment of all-time occurred just before this night game began when Adam Taliaferro walked, then skipped through the south tunnel after suffering a paralyzing injury nearly a year earlier at Ohio State. A record crowd of 109,313 in expanded Beaver Stadium that now featured club and private suites gave Taliaferro a long standing ovation, but the joy ended soon as Miami coasted to victory en route to the national title.
3 - November 11, 1967 - Penn State 13, North Carolina State 8: The Nittany Lions stopped a fourth-and-goal at their one-yard line with 44 seconds left to upset No. 3 North Carolina State and give Coach Joe Paterno his first signature victory. Paterno has called the tackle by Mike McBath, Dennis Onkotz, Jim Kates "one of the greatest plays in Penn State history."
4 - October 31, 1998 - Penn State 27, Illinois 0: If there is one single, memorable but isolated moment frozen in time it was LaVar Arrington's leap over the Illinois offensive line the instant the ball was snapped, tackling the runner in the backfield the millisecond the quarterback gave him the ball. That moment early in the third quarter when the score was already 21-0, had absolutely no impact on the game or the season but it will be forever known as "LaVar's Leap."
5 - October 29, 1994 - Penn State 63, Ohio State 14: Penn State handed Ohio State its worst defeat in 48 years in what remains one of the most satisfying victories ever in Beaver Stadium for Lion fans. The lopsided win by the No. 1 Lions over the No. 21 Buckeyes, though, wasn't impressive enough to keep Penn State atop the next AP poll. Penn State went on to win its first Big Ten Championship, becoming the conference's first 12-0 team, but No. 2 in the final polls.

6 - November 4, 1978 - Penn State 27, Maryland 3: This nationally televised "Battle of the Unbeatens," was the Lions' biggest--and most hyped--home game since the stadium was built in 1960. With 16,000 seats added since 1977, a record crowd of 78,019 watched No. 2 Lions overwhelm No. 5 Maryland and become a media darling in the race for the national championship.

7 - October 27, 2001 - Penn State 29, Ohio State 27: The Beaver Stadium faithful honored their legendary coach when the Lions rallied from a 27-9 deficit to beat the Buckeyes and Paterno passed Alabama's Bear Bryant as the winningest coach in major college football with 324 victories. The genuine love and heart-felt emotion that flowed between the coach and the fans in the post-game ceremonies will always be remembered by those who were there.

8 - October 8, 2005 - Penn State 17, Ohio State 10: The Nittany Lions' win over the No. 6 Buckeyes before another frenzied night time "whiteout" crowd of 109,839 was an epic milestone, marking the return of Penn State to the college football elite. The Lions took the lead in the Big Ten Conference and went on to finish No. 3 in the polls with a BCS Orange Bowl win and their best record (11-1) in 11 years.
9 - November 18, 1995- Penn State 27, Michigan 17: In what is simply known as "The Snow Bowl," a surprise 18-inch snowfall three days before the game made it necessary to use hundreds of paid volunteers to clear the field. But with snow piles all around them, 80,000 freezing fans watched holder Joe Nastasi score a two-yard touchdown off a fake field goal with 2:40 left to secure the Lions' second of three consecutive victories over the Wolverines.

10 - November 21, 1987 - Penn State 21, Notre Dame 20: This may have been the coldest game ever at Beaver Stadium with 30 mile an hour winds, snow flurries and wind chills of zero to 18 degrees the numbing 84,00 shivering fans. Notre Dame scored with 30 seconds remaining and went for the win but quarterback Tony Rice was tackled short of the goal by linebacker Pete Curkendall. "It was a moment that will always be frozen in the history of Penn State football," Paterno said.

11 - September 14, 2002 - Penn State 40, Nebraska 7: The largest crowd in Beaver Stadium history--110,753--believed they were seeing one of the greatest Nittany Lion games ever as No. 25 Penn State clobbered No. 8 Nebraska in an another sizzling night time atmosphere. But the game quickly lost its luster as the Lions routed a Nebraska team that went on to finish with its worst record (7-7) in 41 years.

12 - November 10, 1973 - Penn State 35, North Carolina State 29: John Cappelletti solidified his credentials for the Heisman Trophy with his best running day ever in this wild shootout in freezing cold and snow. Cappelletti set a school record of 41 carries that is still unbroken in rushing for 231 yards and three touchdowns.

13 - November 22, 1986 - Penn State 34, Pitt 14: Clinching a spot in the national championship game by beating arch rival Pitt made this an extremely gratifying moment. The bitterness of the long-time rivalry emerged with five fist fights, several late hits and four offsetting penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct, but the image of Joe Paterno running across the field late in the game to help break up a scuffle in front of the Pitt bench was priceless.

14 - November 11, 1978 - Penn State 19, North Carolina State 10: With No. 2 Penn State holding on to a 12-9 lead with 4:40 left and the crowd of 59,424 growing restless, Matt Suhey returned a punt 43 yards for a touchdown to clinch the victory. As soon as Suhey scored, it was announced that No. 1 Oklahoma had lost three days later, Penn State was ranked No. 1 for the first time ever.
15 - November 2, 1968 - Penn State 28, Army 24: All-America tight end Ted Kwalick swooped up a football coming out of a pile of players on an onside kick with 2:29 left in the game and ran 53-yards for a touchdown that avoided an upset that would have ruined Penn State's first undefeated season under Paterno.

16 - November 16, 1985 - Penn State 36, Notre Dame 6: No game in Beaver Stadium has been played in such drenching, cold rain. The heavy rain started Friday night and did not let up until the game was long over. Despite regional TV, 84,000 fans showed up expecting to see a close game but watched as the No.1 ranked Nittany Lions annihilated Notre Dame en route to an 11-0 regular season and berth in the national championship game vs. Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.

17 - November 21, 1964- Penn State 28, Pitt 0: In one of the two coldest games in the history of Beaver Stadium, Penn State dominated its bitterest rival before another record crowd of 50,144 who braved wind, snow flurries, and wind chill temperatures of zero. It was just the eighth time since the Pitt series began in 1893 that the annual year-end game was played at Penn State and the first time since 1955.

18 - October 20, 1962 - Penn State 20, Syracuse 19: The Nittany Lions blew a 14-point first quarter lead before a record Homecoming crowd of 48,356, but came from behind with five minutes left in the game on an 8-play, 65-yard drive to go take a 20-19 lead. The game was still in doubt until Hatch Rosdahl blocked a 44-yard field goal attempt with 28 seconds remaining. Two spectators died of heart attacks.

19 - October 19, 2008 - Penn State 46, Michigan 17: The exhilaration that emanated from the first victory over Michigan after nine straight losses over 12 years may fade from the mind in the future, but the 110,017 impassioned Homecoming fans thoroughly enjoyed the second half thrashing under the lights as Beaver Stadium rocked and rolled.
20 - September 17, 1960 - Penn State 20, Boston University 0: The moment has faded since it first occurred but the first game in Beaver Stadium certainly deserves to be on this list. Surviving members of the first team to play in New Beaver Field in 1909 were on hand to celebrate the event, but with classes yet to begin a disappointing crowd of 22,559--less than half the 46,000 capacity-- turned out in the rain for a lackluster Penn State win.




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