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September 08, 2011
Unfazed by the windy Hurricanes, underdog Penn State forced five interceptions by Vinny Testaverde to beat Miami for the national title
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September 08, 2011

Their Defense Never Rested

Unfazed by the windy Hurricanes, underdog Penn State forced five interceptions by Vinny Testaverde to beat Miami for the national title

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Penn State dropped eight men to the goal line, and the Nittany Lions looked at Testaverde's eyes. Said Isom, "We knew in key situations he would stare at the receiver he was going to throw to. On first-and-10 he may be the best quarterback in the country, but on third-and-eight or fourth-and-eight he maybe needs to work on it."

Indeed, Testaverde sent three men out but looked only left at Perriman, who was trying to break into a seam. "All that talk about our defensive backs being so small," said Giftopoulos, "and then they don't lob it up when it counts." What happened next seems trapped under glass.

See the spiral. See the spiral coming right at Gifto, all wrapped in a bow. See Testaverde cringe. See three of Gifto's teammates ready to catch it if Gifto doesn't. See two Florida highway patrolmen flank Testaverde on the sideline. See Testaverde throw his helmet in the locker room. See Paterno win another national championship with defense and ugly shoes. See Gifto hand the ball to the official. "Why should I keep it?" said Giftopoulos, a man of simplicity from Hamilton, Ont. "If you keep it, you've got to give the NCAA $50. That's $75 Canadian."

After the game Paterno said, "I've been in a lot of happy locker rooms, but that was the happiest. There was so much enthusiasm, so many kids who wanted to hug me and vice versa. It was like one giant 'Ahhhhhhhhhhh! Finally! We got it.'

"Wouldn't it have been a shame if we hadn't played this game," continued Paterno. "If we had not had a shot at them, Miami would have been voted Number 1, no question. Instead, we got to find out who was better."

Shoulda seen it coming. After all, the Nittany Lions have never lost in Tempe, where they are now 4--0. Also, when Penn State won the national crown in 1983, it held another Heisman winner, Georgia's Herschel Walker, in check. Finally, for the second straight year in a bowl game—Miami had lost to Tennessee 35--7 in the Sugar Bowl the year before—the Hurricanes fell to a team with inferior manpower because Johnson and his staff got outcoached.

When title time rolled around on the 12-yard line, Miami thrashed about on the sideline, stuck with a play for the national championship that it really didn't want, and ended the game with an extra timeout hanging around its neck like a millstone. Meanwhile, Penn State knew exactly what it needed to do. Just as the Lions had done in a last-breath win at Notre Dame on Nov. 15, one of their nameless, black-shod players came up with the brightest play. "We beat them the only way we could," said Paterno. "We beat them in certain situations. We spent hours and hours on playing those situations."

Maybe someday Johnson's bowl record, now 1--4, will be as sterling as Paterno's 12-5-1 mark. For now, though, he and his team had some explaining to do. "All that talk during the week," said Sileo. "I guess we kinda have our feet stuck in our mouths right now."

No big deal. People across the country just learned what folks in South Florida already know. Occasionally, Hurricanes are just a lot of wind.

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