Then the Nittany Lions won their last five games of 1993, all behind Collins, and Sacca transferred to Eastern Kentucky. "And now," says Engram, "there aren't any more distractions for Kerry."
Engram would know something about distractions. A prized recruit, he was one of two true freshmen to make the trip to Giants Stadium for Penn State's 1991 Kickoff Classic matchup against Georgia Tech. His father, Simon, was killed when his car collided with a train at an unmarked crossing a week before the game. "Forty-four years old," says Engram, still emotional at the telling. "That was a very tough thing." The next summer Engram was arrested and charged with theft after he and a teammate were caught with stolen stereo equipment in State College. The charge was removed from his record after he performed community service.
During his suspension from Penn State, Engram worked at The Tavern, a local eatery owned by a man named Pat Daugherty, and also lived with the Daugherty family. "There's something special about Bobby," says Daugherty. "I saw the same thing in his dad. The whole time Bobby was with us, he never blamed anybody for anything." Says Engram, "I made a mistake, and I take the blame for it." Last season Engram rejoined the Nittany Lions, caught four touchdown passes in his first game and has been a brilliant offensive light since.
So yes, there was something appropriate going on early Saturday evening as Engram crossed smoothly in front of Johnson, squared his body ever so slightly toward Collins—who threw not at all like a pitcher—and caught the touchdown pass with 2:53 to play that gave Penn State the victory, 31-24.
It was a win that belonged not only to Engram but also to Collins (20 for 32,231 yards), to junior tailback Ki-Jana Carter (165 yards on 26 carries, injured right thumb and all), to senior tight end Kyle Brady (six catches for 63 yards) and to a Penn State defense that was berated all week by senior linebacker Brian Gelzheiser for allowing the likes of Temple and Rutgers to score touchdowns in the lackluster Lion victories that preceded the game against Michigan. "I don't like to get vocal," said Gelzheiser. Well, he added, "just a tad."
And perhaps most of all—and he wouldn't like to hear this—the win belonged to Paterno, the 67-year-old active icon. He wouldn't like it because one of the lessons he has relearned in these twilight years of his coaching career is that "it's not my team, it's their team." That was a lesson taught him by his coach at Brown and his mentor and predecessor at Penn State, Rip Engle. Paterno has thought often of Engle lately, because he is now past the age at which Engle retired (never mind that Paterno looks barely different than he does in the weathered, 30-year-old team pictures that hang in Penn State's Recreation Hall) and because he admires much of what Engle accomplished late in his career.
"The thing that made Rip such a great coach," says Paterno, "is that he never 'lost' a squad." Engle's accomplishment makes Paterno think back to 1992, when the Nittany Lions started 5-0 but dropped five of their last seven games. "We lost them," Paterno said. "And that embarrassed me."
The ensuing two years have been for Paterno—and by extension for his program—a renewal. In the week before the game against Michigan, Penn State players saw Paterno running about the practice field, as spry as a child, in sweats and cleats. "It's funny, sure, but it's inspiring, too," said Gelzheiser. Paterno lives for games like the one with the Wolverines. "It's what I would miss if I was watching TV," he said. "The one thing I've thought about pro football is that it would have given me a chance to coach in a Super Bowl. I've never been in a Super Bowl."
On Saturday there was a final chance for Michigan. The Wolverines started from their own 20 with just that 2:53 left, moving toward the same end zone in which Colorado celebrated in a heap. Wheatley, who rushed for 144 rushing yards on the day, including touchdown runs of 67 and 21 yards, picked up 30. A bomb from Michigan quarterback Todd Collins to Amani Toomer fell tantalizingly incomplete, brushing Toomer's fingertips. Tshimanga Biakabutuka ran for nine and then for nothing. On fourth down, with 1:32 left, Collins's sideline throw, under pressure, was intercepted by Penn State's Brian Miller.
Wheatley, still playing his way into shape after missing two games because of a preseason shoulder injury and still 13 pounds under his best weight of 230, slowly walked to the sideline. He stopped short, removed his helmet and slammed it hard to the ground. "Who do you get mad at?" Michigan coach Gary Moeller asked at his postgame press conference.