There are certain plays and games that stand out in the history of college football.
One of those plays came in one of those games for the ages in the 1979 Sugar Bowl in the Superdome.
Quite simply, it was the goal line stand that then second-ranked Alabama put on then top-ranked Penn State to preserve a 14-7 victory.
On four different tries, Penn State tried to score from the Alabama 1-yard line – the last pair from inside the 1. On fourth down, linebacker Barry Krauss hit running back Mike Guman helmet to helmet in a mass of humanity, keeping the Nittany Lions from winning their first-ever national championship.
It was a game that saw then legendary Alabama head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant and legend in the making Joe Paterno butt heads. While Paterno would later pass the Bear’s record of 323 coaching victories and become a legend himself, it was the Bear and the Crimson Tide that left New Orleans that night on top.
Paterno, who this day is an icon in the world of college football, will lead his 18th-ranked Nittany Lions into Tuscaloosa Saturday night for a 6 p.m. (CST) battle with the nation’s top-ranked team.
Even though none of his players or Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s team have much history of that 1979 classic, the older fans and players do. That is why many of them (myself included) are so happy to see these two schools meet on the gridiron once again, albeit just for this year and next Sept. 10 in State College.
While it certainly isn’t Michigan-Ohio State or Alabama-Auburn, there are plenty of memories from ‘Bama-Penn State for those of us old enough to remember them.
Even though Bryant has been gone for 28 years (died in 1982 not long after coaching his final game at ‘Bama), Paterno (395 career coaching wins) remains the most famous link to this rivalry. He has been part of all 13 Penn State-Alabama games, the first one as an assistant in the 1959 Liberty Bowl in Philadelphia. Having faced off against Bryant four times, Paterno went 0-4.
In their final clash in 1981 in State College, Bryant tied Amos Alonzo Stagg’s record for most career victories by a college football coach, scoring No. 314 in a 31-16 win.
Yes, the names and faces have changed, except of course for Paterno.
And while this game Saturday night will not decide the national championship, it will remind us what is good about college football. Simply put, tradition is a huge part of this game we love.
On this night, let us remember some of the great memories that Penn State-Alabama has provided us over the years.
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Written by Dave Thomas