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Whenever Inside Linebacker Chet Parlavecchio of Penn State wants to relax, he turns to a hobby he has enjoyed since he was six. He plays with toy soldiers. "I've got thousands," he says. "Cowboys and Indians, World War II, old-time soldiers. I set them up and I play. It takes care of my frustrations."
In the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz. Parlavecchio, also known as the Italian Enforcer, rid himself of more than a few frustrations by moving around some Trojans, not the warriors of antiquity but the football players of Southern Cal. With 15 tackles in the Nittany Lions' 26-10 victory, the 6'2", 225-pound Parlavecchio led a defensive unit that held the Heisman Trophy winner, USC Tailback Marcus Allen, to 85 yards rushing, scored a safety and caused six turnovers and one concussion. Said Parlavecchio, "We beat their butts. We mangled them. We intimidated them. We shocked them."
The biggest shock of all to the Trojans may have been that the Penn State offense was able to give Tailback U. a dose of its own medicine in the form of junior Tailback Curt Warner, who ran for 145 yards on 26 carries. On the very first play from scrimmage in last year's Fiesta Bowl—Fiesta Bowl X, mind you—Warner had run 64 yards for a touchdown. On the first play of Fiesta Bowl XI, Allen fumbled as he switched the ball from one arm to the other, and the Lions' Halfback Roger Jackson recovered. Two plays later, on the USC 17, Warner took the ball from his roommate, Quarterback Todd Blackledge, on a quick trap, peeked in at the crowd of Trojans in the middle of the line and then rambled around the left corner and into the end zone. Fifteen seconds into the game, Penn State led 7-0.
It was a happy return to form for the 5'11", 195-pound Warner. After gaining at least 100 yards in each of the Lions' first five games, including 238 against Nebraska and 256 against Syracuse, he pulled his left hamstring. Though he ran for 104 yards in Penn State's last regular-season game, a 48-14 win over Pitt, Warner claims he was only 70%. "Nobody has seen the real me in a while," he said before the Fiesta Bowl, "but now I'm healthy and I'm hungry."
Warner comes from the town of Wyoming (pop. 200), W Va., where he was raised by his grandparents, James and Lottie Mae Warner. His father was never a part of the family, and his mother, Pauline, unable to find work in Wyoming, moved to New York City, where she once worked in a factory that turned out plastic fingernails and shoe soles. "He made me feel very proud," she said after watching her son's Fiesta Bowl performance on TV, in her apartment in Cleveland, where she moved 13 years ago, "but I'm always proud of him, and always have been." Grandfather James spent 41 years working the hoot-owl shift (midnight to 8 a.m.) in West Virginia coal mines, where he contracted black lung and arthritis in both shoulders. Grandmother Lottie Mae has a kidney ailment that requires treatment on a dialysis machine three times a week. "I know it's helping them just knowing Curt's doing so well," says Pauline.
Another surprise in this Fiesta Bowl was that it was played on New Year's Day. The Fiesta ended its seven-year affiliation with the WAC when Arizona and Arizona State went to the Pac-10 in 1978, and the game's directors then made the decision that their event should become a "major" bowl—meaning that, someday it would have to be scheduled for Jan. 1. There's nothing in the rule-book that says a bowl date can't be changed; the risks for the promoters in such a move are loss of TV contracts and certification by the NCAA.
The foundation for the Fiesta's switch was laid last January when the game's executive director, Bruce Skinner, heard talk that the Sugar Bowl might shift from its afternoon spot opposite the Cotton Bowl to an evening slot, head to head with the Orange Bowl. Skinner & Co. was at the time negotiating its second three-year contract with NBC-TV, which had no objection to the move. When the Sugar Bowl announced its change in late March, the Fiesta did, too. The NCAA Post-season Football Committee voted against the shift, but the Fiesta folks won an appeal to the NCAA Council, which, mindful of the antitrust laws, ruled that the committee had no authority to determine a date or time for any bowl game. So New Year's Day got another bowl.
After two previous trips to the Fiesta—both wins, 42-30 over Arizona State in 1977 and 31-19 last year over Ohio State—Penn State had grown to feel like the home team. "It's only a formality that we're wearing white out there," said All-America Guard Sean Farrell. The Lions were annoyed with the Trojans because the Penn State players felt that USC, unhappy at not being in the Rose Bowl, was taking neither the Fiesta nor the Nittany Lions very seriously. "I don't think they really want to be here," said Farrell. "But we do, we like it."
In yet another surprise, it rained in the Arizona desert on New Year's, which helped to make the first quarter of the Fiesta Bowl a comedy of errors. After that first, quick Penn State touchdown, Trojan Quarterback John Mazur followed up a fumble by Warner with an interception thrown at Lion Safety Mark Robinson, after which Penn State Kicker Brian Franco missed a 36-yarder. Then with 3:15 to go in the quarter, the Lions had a third-and-six on their own 13, and Blackledge dropped back to pass. But Trojan Linebacker Keith Browner hit Blackledge as he threw and Linebacker Chip Banks made the interception and ran it in. Tie game: 7-7. Five minutes later Penn State had another third down, this one on its 48. The pass would be to a walk-on split end named Gregg Garrity, whose father, Jim, a former Lion receiver (1952-54), was one of the first players ever recruited by one of Penn State's assistant coaches then, Joe Paterno. Gregg's pattern was to line up on the left, fake an out move and fly deep down the left sideline. Blackledge underthrew Garrity, and the ball headed straight for USC Cornerback Joey Browner, Keith's older brother. "It was not a well-thrown pass," Blackledge said later, "but Gregg made a super adjustment on it." Garrity did, indeed, stepping in front of Browner to make the catch and put the Lions up 14-7.
With 9:20 to go in the half, Franco missed another field-goal attempt, this one a 37-yarder. Three plays later Allen dropped the ball again. When Penn State Tackle Leo Wisniewski bent over to pick it up, he accidentally kicked it 18 yards downfield and had to chase it along the left sideline, where he finally fell on it. "I felt like an idiot," Wisniewski said. Seven plays later Franco finally hit, from 21 yards, and the Lions led 17-7.