Northwestern's magical and much chronicled 13-game Big Ten winning streak was abruptly halted 34-9 by Penn State last Saturday amid snow squalls in State College, Pa. But for those who traffic only in the happy endings that have made the Wildcats so cuddly for nearly two seasons, there was consolation. The star of the Nittany Lions' victory was fifth-year senior quarterback Wally Richardson, whose career had seemed in danger of ending on the bench.
Last season, his first as a starter, Richardson threw 18 touchdown passes and only six interceptions and four times led Penn State to fourth-quarter comeback victories. But until Saturday, this season had been a disaster for Richardson. Unnerved by frequent blitzes, he had thrown for just four touchdowns and had had seven passes intercepted, leaving him the lowest-rated passer in the Big Ten. Worse, he had been booed at Beaver Stadium, where the crowds are generally among the most passive in the country. Against Indiana the week before the game with Northwestern, Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno yanked Richardson in the second quarter, with Penn State trailing 10-3, and replaced him with junior Mike McQueary; McQueary led the Nittany Lions to a 48-26 victory.
Richardson's demotion was discomforting to Paterno and Richardson's teammates, who hated to see their friend suffer. Richardson, a quiet fellow without a shred of pretense, had hoped to make his final season special—"I understand that this is the end here for me, and I do feel an urgency about it," he had said earlier in the season—but that self-imposed pressure only served to make him play tighter.
However, on the Monday following the Indiana embarrassment, Paterno called Richardson aside and told him, "You're my quarterback. Now just go out there and relax." Paterno's motives were refreshingly old-fashioned, as befit a 69-year-old coach. He wanted to give Richardson another chance because he likes him so much. "He's the kind of kid you'd want to be your own son," Paterno said after the Northwestern game. Richardson beamed last weekend as he recalled his discussion with Paterno. "It made me feel so much better about everything," he said.
The reprieve also left Richardson so excited that he could scarcely call a play in the huddle during Penn State's first series against Northwestern. When the bench signaled a Louis-55, a bomb to wideout Joe Jurevicius, Richardson stood in front of his teammates stammering, "Uh...twins, twins, twins...," a reference to the formation, which isn't usually voiced. Fullback Aaron Harris and receiver Joe Nastasi completed the call for him.
Richardson finished Saturday's game with 11 completions in 22 attempts for 201 yards and two touchdowns, one of which came on the longest toss of his career, a 63-yarder to Jurevicius in the second quarter. He was intercepted once.
Richardson is such a sensitive soul that in an interview before Penn State's resounding 38-7 loss at Ohio State on Oct. 5, he lamented not having mentioned his little brother's name during a television interview the previous weekend. Late Saturday afternoon, in a corner off Penn State's interview room, Richardson quietly digested his turn of fortune. "This is the best I've ever felt here," he said. On a rubbing table nearby sat William Richardson, age 10. Just as proud. Just as quiet. Now with a sweet memory of his big brother's final college season.
The Bowl Quandary
Scenario: At the end of the regular season and the conference championship games, just two teams remain unbeaten—the winner of the Nov. 30 Florida-Florida State game and Ohio State. They're ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. The Gators versus Seminoles victor is committed to the bowl alliance's so-called national-championship game, the Sugar Bowl. The Buckeyes, the Big Ten champions, are committed to the Rose Bowl.
Question: Is there any way to bring the two teams together in the Sugar Bowl, to avoid the unsatisfying situation that occurred after the 1994 season when No. 1 Nebraska and No. 2 Penn State, both undefeated, could not meet because the Big Ten champion Nittany Lions were obliged to meet their Pac-10 counterparts in the Rose Bowl?