Miami Memories: Orange Bowl

Penn State has an exciting history with the Orange Bowl. As the Lions prepare to face Florida State in the big game this year, over the next week or so we will take a look as PSU's Orange Bowl showings of the past, starting with the 1969 game. These are authorized and exclusive excerpts from Lou Prato's Penn State Football Encyclopedia.

The 1969 Orange Bowl
Jan. 1, 1969
Penn State 15, Kansas 14

The atmosphere in Miami in the week leading up to the Orange Bowl game New Year's Night was fresh, relaxing and full of the holiday spirit. Both teams worked hard in practice but the players and coaches reveled in the official events the Orange Bowl committee held in their honor. In their off times, the State players lolled around the pool and lobby at the Ivanhoe Hotel in Miami Beach and talked easily with alumni and fans who dropped by. Frequently, Mike Reid would entertain with some impromptu piano playing.

Playing in such a glamour game was a new experience for both the State and Kansas teams. The Jayhawks had not been to any bowl game since their 1947 team (8-0-2 and ranked 12th) played and lost to Georgia Tech in this same Orange Bowl, 20-14. Of course, the last State team to play on New Year's also was its '47 squad, which tied SMU in the Cotton Bowl. One of the attractions of this year's game was the two young coaches, Joe Paterno and Kansas' Pepper Rodgers. In his second year at Kansas, Rodgers had surprised everyone with a team picked to finish third in the Big Eight. Now, the Jayhawks were 6th in the nation with a high octane offense featuring quarterback Bobby Douglass and running backs Donnie Shanklin and John Riggins and a hard-hitting defense with two of the best defensive ends in the country, All-American John Zook and Vernon Vanoy. Rodgers had earned notoriety as an outstanding quarterback at Georgia Tech but State fans remembered him as the UCLA assistant in 1965 who was using a controversial electronic device from the Beaver Stadium press box to give plays to quarterback Gary Beban on the playing field. Rodgers was as talkative and as witty as Paterno and at their public events, they wowed the crowd with their remarks and impromptu comedy routine. That helped excite the local populace, who seemed to be looking ahead to the January 12th Super Bowl between the powerful Baltimore Colts and the 17-point underdog New York Jets and their cocky quarterback, Joe Namath.

Because the teams were similar, both Paterno and Rodgers predicted a wild, high-scoring game. Most sportswriters agreed and believed Kansas had the edge because of their quarterback, a big and mobile left-hander who could run and throw. Although Chuck Burkhart had thrown just seven interceptions, he also had tossed just six TD passes. He wasn't much of a runner and he was still criticized for being erratic.

“Sure, he'll make some mistakes,” Paterno said when queried about his QB, “but then he'll come up with the big play. All he does is win.”

With Burkhart in control, the Lion offense had just 14 turnovers all season and had scored more points than any State team since 1916, averaging 21 points per game. Some sportswriters said State's defense would make or break the game. The Rover Boys defense had set up or scored 145 of State's 339 points.

Because Ohio State, now #1, was playing #2 USC in the Rose Bowl three hours earlier on New Years Day, the outcome in the Orange Bowl was not expected to have any bearing on the National Championship. Despite its record, State was still being criticized for its “Eastern” schedule, especially by sportswriters in the Midwest, Southeast and Southwest. Even with a potential tie in the Rose Bowl, PSU was given only an outside chance to go to #1, Still, when hundreds of giddy fans gathered for a noon time pep rally inside the Deauville Hotel, they chanted “We're Number One” and “Numero Uno” when Paterno and the players appeared. At a special prayer service just before the game, Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry spoke to the players and told them, “Don't give up, whatever may happen.”

In spite of what the two coaches had predicted, the game turned into a defensive battle almost from the start. Kansas intercepted two Burkhart passes and recovered an Don Abbey fumble in the first quarter and after the second interception at the PSU 45-yard, Kansas ran eight straight plays and scored on Mike Reeves' 2-yard plunge and Bill Bell's PAT. The Lions tied it in the second quarter after getting the ball at their own 47 after a punt and on the sixth play of the drive Charlie Pittman ran up the middle from the 13-yard line and Bob Garthwaite made it 7-7. State's defense halted KU at the PSU 35 later in the quarter and twice the Lions had scoring opportunities but Tom Cherry fumbled at the Jayhawk 7 and Garthwaite missed a 21-yard field goal with four seconds remaining in the half.

In the third quarter, the Lions drove from their 33-yard line for a first down at the KU 5. Cherry carried three straight times to within a half yard but on fourth down Pittman was thrown for a 2-yard loss and State never got close again - until the end. Kansas drove all the way into State territory but a 33-yard field goal was short and wide as the period came to a close. On the opening series of the fourth quarter, KU's defense forced State to punt from the PSU 13-yard line. Now came what seemed to be the play of the game. Shanklin took the punt at the KU 47 and was not tackled until Pittman stopped him at the PSU 7. Riggins picked up 6 yards on the first play and a touchdown on the next one. Bell's PAT gave KU the 14-7 lead and the momentum. The KU defense forced the Lions into another punt and the Jayhawks moved from their 28 for a fourth-and-1 at the PSU 5 with 10 minutes still to play. Disdaining a “sure” field goal, Rodgers sent Riggins off tackle and he was stopped for no gain by Paul and Pete Johnson. But Kansas kept the Lions bottled up for the next eight minutes. When State was forced to punt with two minutes left and KU took possession at its 38-yard line, the Kansas Fans in the crowd of 77,719 began celebrating, “There was no way Penn State could win…,' Roy McHugh of the Pittsburgh Press wrote later. “The last two minutes were pure unadulterated insanity.”

State had all three timeouts left and used them well. Douglass tried a keeper around the end but was topped for no gain by Lincoln Lippincott. Then on two successive plays Douglass was nailed for losses by Reid and with fourth-and-23, Kansas had to punt. State rushed 10 men and Neal Smith partially blocked the ball and it bounced and wobbled out of bounds at the 50. There was 1:16 left on the clock as Paterno conferred with Burkhart and Bob Campbell on the sidelines. Paterno knew Kansas would defend against short passes, so he told Campbell to run deep and he told Burkhart to throw it over his head but not worry about a completion, just avoid an interception.

That way, Paterno said, Kansas will have to defend deep and we'll come back with Ted Kwalick over the middle. But as they returned to the huddle, Campbell told Burkhart, “Throw to the left goal post and I'll be there.” Burkhart nodded and said the ball would be too. Up in the press box, came the announcement that Shanklin had been selected the game's “Most Valuable Player” and many sportswriters headed for the elevator and the dressing rooms. Burkhart dropped back and just as he was being whacked by two linemen he arched the ball toward Campbell, who split between two KU defenders, snared the pass on the 20 and reached the KU 3 before being tackled. The crowd roared as John Kukla raced up to the referee and called State's last timeout.

Burkhart and Paterno discussed a three-play sequence without any huddles, with Cherry carrying the first two times and Paterno sending in the third play. The TV camera cut to a shot of Reid on the bench, his hands clasped and ostensibly saying a prayer. When time resumed Kansas stopped Cherry twice for no gain and as the clock ticked down, Paterno sent in Greg Edmonds with the play, a handoff to Pittman for a “scissors” slant over the left tackle with Campbell as a pass decoy out on the left flank. The KU defense figured Pittman would get the ball and the linebackers squeezed in toward the line. Burkhart realized the play wouldn't work but there was no time for an audible. Instead of giving Pittman the handoff, Burkhart faked, kept the ball and ran around a surprised Campbell at the left end. “I thought we had fumbled,” said Pittman later. “Then I was tackled; then I saw Chuck score.” It was the first touchdown of Burkhart's career. “I said I'd save my first touchdown for a time when it counted,” he later told John Crittenden, sports editor of the Miami News.

The State fans cheered and Paterno, true to his go-for-the-win philosophy, sent in a 2-point option pass play that had Kwalick running near the goal, Campbell going deep into the end zone and Burkhart rolling out to either run or pass. But Kansas had the play defensed perfectly and when Burkhart tried to hit Campbell, two KU defenders knocked the ball away. The Kansas players and fans started to celebrate as their fans began pouring out of their seats. But the umpired, Foster Grose, was waving a red flag. Penalty. “Illegal procedure,” signaled the referee but neither the fans nor the sportswriters in the press box learned until after the game that the penalty was for 12 men on the field. Actually, as the game film showed and the Kansas coaches later admitted, 12 men had been on the field for four plays, including Burkhart's touchdown. In the confusion after the sensational pass to Campbell, linebacker Rick Abernathy had stayed on the field. Now with a second chance, Paterno sent in a play for Campbell to take a pitchout right but when the referees had to hold up the game because of the noise, Paterno changed the play to a Campbell sweep left. With Charlie Zapiec taking out Zook and Kwalick and Cherry blocking the linebackers, Campbell ran around left and dove into the end zone. Now it was the State players and fans who went crazy. Eight seconds were left and in the bedlam State kicked off.

KU had one play left and Douglass threw the ball wildly trying to hit a receiver and it fell harmlessly to the ground. The final score was 15-14 and State became the first Eastern team to win the Orange Bowl since Duquesne in 1937. “This was a crazy to end all crazies,” wrote Edwin Pope, sports editor of the Miami Herald. “…Folks will be examining their brains about this one for a long time.”

“This Orange Bowl game put us on the map,” Paterno would say later. The team finished with the best record (11-0) since football began at State in 1887 and the highest place ever in the polls - #2. Paterno was hot and within the next month he would turn down a job offer from the Pittsburgh Steelers and be named “Coach of the Year” by his coaching colleagues. Everyone wondered if he, Chuck and “The Rover Boys” could do it again in 1969. He could and they would. But then a football coach turned sportscaster and a conniving President of the United States spoiled it all.

This 1969 Orange Bowl recap is from Lou Prato's Penn State Football Encyclopedia, the definitive historical reference for the Nittany Lion program.

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