SI Vault
Jordan Hyman
August 21, 2008
The storied history of football in Happy Valley has produced memories that are both exultant and bittersweet. But where does each one rank? Here are the Top 20 Nittany Lions moments of all time
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
August 21, 2008

The Top 20 Greatest Moments

The storied history of football in Happy Valley has produced memories that are both exultant and bittersweet. But where does each one rank? Here are the Top 20 Nittany Lions moments of all time

View CoverRead All Articles

JAN. 3, 2006
WHO COULD bear to watch? After four hours of tense action in the hot, Florida sun, Penn State's Kevin Kelly connects on a 29-yard field goal (above) to give Penn State a 26-23 triple-OT victory over Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Kelly had twice missed field goals that would have won the game for the Nittany Lions, the Big Ten co-champs who finish the '05 season 11-1.

JAN. 1, 1948
IN A BATTLE of Top 5 programs, Penn State and Southern Methodist finish tied, 13-13, thanks to a missed point-after attempt by Nittany Lions kicker Ed Czekaj in the team's first bowl appearance since the '22 season. Bob Higgins's Lions end the year with a 9-0-1 record, but even more notable is the accomplishment of Dennie Hoggard and Wally Triplett (above)—two African-American Penn Staters who break the Cotton Bowl's color barrier.

DEC. 19, 1959
POINTS ARE hard to come by for Rip Engle's Nittany Lions in the inaugural Liberty Bowl, as PSU running back Jim Kerr (below) is held to 16 yards. This makes sense considering Penn State faces an Alabama defense with four shutouts to its credit in '59. But on this day, State's D is even stiffer; it allows Bear Bryant's club just 131 total yards of offense. Backup quarterback Galen Hall's pass to Roger Kochman on a fake field goal results in the lone touchdown in Penn State's 7-0 victory. This is the first of three straight bowl wins for the Lions, a precursor to the program's golden era of the late '60s.

JAN. 1, 1970
PENN STATE'S seniors stamp one last exclamation mark on the program's second straight perfect season. Missouri (9-1) may have averaged 36 points and 450 yards of offense per game, but the Tigers haven't seen a defense like PSU's. Mike Reid, Dennis Onkotz and Neal Smith (26, below) are at their finest en route to a staggering final tally: seven interceptions, two fumble recoveries and six completions allowed in a 10-3 Orange Bowl victory. Only Richard Nixon's anointment of Texas as No. 1 dampens spirits in Happy Valley after this undefeated season.

DEC. 28, 1999
FEW KNOW what to expect from Penn State in the Alamo Bowl: The Nittany Lions have dropped three straight to sour a 9-0 start. But the defense takes out its frustrations on Texas A&M. Junior linebacker LaVar Arrington (above) has 14 tackles and a sack to headline a unit that creates five turnovers in a 24-0 rout. It is a fitting finale for defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky—dean of Linebacker U—whose retirement gift includes a ride to midfield on his players' shoulders.

SEPT. 1, 2001
ALMOST A year after freshman cornerback Adam Taliaferro (above) broke his neck and bruised his spinal cord while tackling an Ohio State player, he leads PSU onto the field against Miami. Given just a 3% chance of full recovery, Taliaferro rejoins the program as a student-assistant, earns a bachelor of science from Penn State in 2005 and graduates Rutgers Law School in '08.

OCT. 31, 1998
ELMER HICKMAN becomes an unwitting star in one of Penn State's most YouTubed moments when LaVar Arrington times the snap and hurtles himself from the defensive backfield across the offensive line and right into the Illinois running back (above), who drops in a heap. The LaVar Leap at Beaver Stadium is still as sweet a six-second clip as you'll find in any Nittany Lions highlight reel.

SEPT. 17, 1966
SIXTEEN YEARS after Joe Paterno arrives in State College as an assistant coach—a job he took hoping to earn cash to pay for law school—he replaces Rip Engle. In his head coaching debut, a home game versus Maryland, Paterno earns career victory number 1 with help from sophomore defensive tackle Mike Reid (68), who has three safeties (one of them off a blocked punt) in the Nittany Lions' 15-7 win. Afterward Terps coach Lou Saban is so disgusted, he runs right off the field, forgetting to shake Paterno's hand. (He later calls to apologize.)

NOV. 7, 1964
A 3-4 PENN STATE team pulls off the program's greatest upset to that point, blanking No. 2-ranked Ohio State 27-0 before more than 84,000 fans at the Horsheshoe. After his offense gains 63 yards, OSU coach Woody Hayes calls the game "the soundest trouncing we have ever gotten." When the Lions—including Glenn Ressler (below, center), Bob Kane, Gary Wydman, Tom Urbanik and Jerry Sandusky—return home, they see the results of the students' postgame revelry, which includes the depositing of a Volkswagen in the pond in front of university president Eric Walker's house.

OCT. 18, 1969
IN THE fourth quarter unranked Syracuse leads unbeaten Penn State 14-0. But Lions linebacker Jack Ham recovers a fumble to set up a Lydell Mitchell TD. Then Joe Paterno goes for two, twice—Franco Harris (above) is stuffed on the first try, but after a Syracuse penalty gives Penn State another attempt, the fullback punches it in. Later Harris strikes again, breaking loose from 34 yards out to tie the game. The 15-14 victory remains one of Penn State's most improbable.

Continue Story
1 2