Penn State Introduction

At Penn State, few programs strike a negative chord in fans like the Miami Hurricanes. Coincidentally, so do their coaches. Those coaches, however, long escaped the heat, the parties of South Beach, smartened up, and either moved on to real school like Oregon State or retired from football altogether.

During the same period, loyal Nittany Lions fans have undergone a change over the past decade. Ten years ago, the answer was simple. Beat Notre Dame, West Virginia, Pitt, and Miami and Happy Valley lives an offseason without the glum facial expressions. Since then, Ohio State and Michigan entered the conference schedule, the Buckeyes and Wolverines displaced the Mountaineers and Panthers as public enemy No. 1. Notre Dame remains and, unfortunately for Larry Coker, the Hurricanes continue this season as major piece in the enemy pie.

So, this Saturday, a date circled on the calendar for years marks the renewal of a battle between school's at odds on the 8:00 p.m. ABC primetime spot. The lights of Beaver Stadium will sparkle in the cool State College night as former defensive back Adam Taliaferro takes his first steps on the Lions home turf after a frightening spinal injury a season ago in Columbus, Oh. With over 108,000 blue and white supporters packing the stands, screaming, "We are…. Penn State," the Hurricanes have a tough test ahead. No doubt, much more difficult than the critics, players, and coaches realize. The father of college football, Joe Paterno, Joepa, will give a little waive to the student body as he stands on the precipice of overcoming Paul "Bear" Bryant for tops in all-time coaching wins. Papa Joe has 323 career victories. Larry Coker still has yet to earn No. 1.

Miami versus Penn State spells doom and excitement. Who can ever forget the '87 Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz. where a very crass and talented, yet egotistical and dumb Miami football team expected the Nittany Lions to lay down and allow the Hurricanes to storm to the national championship. But, alas, Lions defensive backs Duffy Cobbs and Ray Isom knocked the snot out of Hurricanes' wide receivers. Soon, the pass grabbers looked like gators crossing the middle with their short arms, afraid of taking a big-time hit from a truly physical football team. On the game's last play with his back facing the goal posts, linebacker Pete Giftopoulos, dropped into coverage across the middle. Reading the eyes of a frustrated Vinny Testaverde, the man commonly known in Lions circles as "Gifto" pulled his second pick of the game out of the night desert sky. He looked left and right, not quite knowing what had transpired. The 14-10 victory gave Paterno his first national championship team with an undefeated squad.

Five years later, the Lions visited the Orange Bowl to renew a clash that hadn't diminished in its heated exchanges of spite. Miami escaped with the victory, keeping the "streak" alive for another week. In 1992 after another Beaver Stadium expansion pushed the attendance to nearly 97,000 fans, the Lions were one poor John Sacca pass away from a colossal upset. Still, the Lions proved the No. 1 rating of the Hurricanes was unwarranted. After all, the Lions lost five more games that season and Alabama throttled an-overconfident overrated quarterback, Gino Torretta, in the Sugar Bowl.

After a brief hiatus, the carnival atmosphere returned in 1999. The spark of Miami, which won games on reputation alone, had long disappeared. The Lions remaining headstrong in their first six years in the Big Ten conference, including one undefeated championship showed in '99 it had one of the best linebackers the college game had seen in over a decade. Led by studs Courtney Brown, Brandon Short, and Lavar Arrington, the Lions stopped a last ditch effort by the ‘Canes short. The next play, quarterback Kevin Thompson threw a perfect pass to jetting wide receiver Chafie Fields down the sideline as he coasted to a score. Like the Miami program, quarterback Kenny Kelly sputtered down the stretch, throwing one last interception to Derek Fox, ending the upset bid.

Now, two years later, again the road team has national title aspirations and the home team suffers with no respect. Here's where the difference lies, Paterno can win football games with 22 water boys on both sides of the football. Larry Coker hasn't proved he can beat the Backstreet Boys in a flag football game. The Lions are back. They're hungry and salivating at the chance of planting another Miami quarterback's wishes of a Heisman Trophy into the turf. Be assured, the Lions are no walkovers. In the midst of a heated rivalry that withstands the test of time, students painted blue and white from head to toe after a full day of celebrating prior to kickoff will witness one heck-of-a football game once again. Win or lose, Paterno and the Lions will prove they belong in the spotlight. Win or lose, Larry Coker will still be known as Butch Davis' former assistant.

Brian K. Hall is a sports editor for "The Collegian" – Penn State's official newspaper – as well as a full time PSU student. Check out the latest news on the Nittany Lions at http://www.collegian.psu.edu or send all comments and correspondence to Brian at bkh129@psu.edu

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