1994 Team Feels the Pain

Penn State's last great football team was honored at halftime of Saturday's Blue-White game. Members of the unbeaten 1994 squad still keep close tabs on the Nittany Lion program, even if four losing seasons in five years at times makes it a chore.

The names are etched into Penn State football lore. Collins and Carter. Engram and Brady. Archie and Pitts. Rivera and Witman. Gelzheiser and Herring. Nelson and Conway.

One by one, the members of the 1994 team were introduced at halftime of the Blue-White Game on Saturday at Beaver Stadium, and the ovations kept getting louder.

Maybe it's because the last five years have produced so few high-round draft picks. Maybe it's because the last five years have produced so many losses.

But the collection of talent from the 1994 team seemed staggering. So did what's taken place at Penn State since.

The former greats have struggled to watch their alma mater sink to unprecedented depths.

"It's tough to see," said Marco Rivera, one of several still in the NFL. "You feel bad for the players here. I don't think they're playing with much confidence."

Nonetheless, the ex-Nits still believe in the program, and they still believe in Joe Paterno.

"I wouldn't be here if I didn't support him," said Kim Herring, currently a safety with the Cincinnati Bengals. "I have full faith that JoePa will pull it together."

Kyle Brady, a tight end with the Jacksonville Jaquars heading into his 11th NFL season, can only hope that's the case.

"We still hold onto our hope that things are going to get better," Brady said. "We have confidence and trust in the group that's here, trying to get it better. We're hoping for the best."

Ki-Jana Carter, the first pick of the '95 draft whose career has been hampered by injuries, is bothered by reduced expectations.

"Now everybody's talking about 8-3," he said. "We didn't talk like that. We wanted to go undefeated."

Carter called the Lions' current state "a transition phase" and thinks the recent recruiting success will make a difference.

"I think we're going to be all right," he said.

The centerpiece of the '94 team was its offensive line , in which all five starters played in the NFL and two (Rivera and Jeff Hartings) are still playing.

Rivera points to the kind of recruiting the Lion staff did in the '90s.

"[Offensive line] coach [Craig] Cirbus was excellent at preparing us for the game plan, but then again, he had five very good linemen to work with," Rivera said. "That made life easier. When you had those kind of players, it makes any coach look even better."

Jon Witman feels the players may not being as unified today, and Herring noticed it, too.

"I can sense the attitude is a little different," he said. "It's all about the kids believing. You don't always have to have the best athletes. All you need is attitude."

Paterno called the '94 team, which was denied a national championship by being voted No. 2 in the writers’ and coachess polls, "a true championship football team, any way you look at it."

Paterno likes to tell the story of how the Lions regrouped from a 21-0 deficit at Illinois to preserve their unbeaten season.

Their hotel in Champaign on that Saturday morning had lost power, which canceled the pre-game meal. With no elevators, players were walking up and down 10 flights of steps and eating pizza on the bus on the way to the game.

"We weren't ready to play that game," Paterno said.

But he pointed to the intangibles that got the Lions through en route to their 12-0 season that culminated in the Rose Bowl.

"That team had trust and loyalty and commitment and bled together," he said. "I didn't have to worry about the phone ringing (with off-the-field news) on Sunday morning."

Paterno paused and added, perhaps wishfully, "we'll get back to that."

It's at least a noble goal.

Neil Rudel covers Penn State football for the Altoona Mirror.


Fight On State Top Stories