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September 08, 2011
The Linebacker U icon recounts an epic face-off in which JoePa was right yet again: Defense wins championships
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September 08, 2011

Play It Again Shane Conlan

The Linebacker U icon recounts an epic face-off in which JoePa was right yet again: Defense wins championships

HOW DID WE BEAT MIAMI? WE PRACTICED HARD—THAT'S JOE PATERNO football. He always says that you win with defense, and I am a true believer in that. We won that game with five interceptions. But I've heard this a lot: If we played that game 10 times, Miami would win nine. Are you kidding me? I disagree with that. Penn State will always find a way to win. We had some pretty good players on that team, and that fact got lost in the hoopla surrounding the game. I just didn't understand why Miami would act like they were playing a Division II or Division III school. We were ranked No. 2 at the time. Maybe it was our style of play—run the ball and play good defense—or maybe it was our uniforms that made Miami think that they didn't have to take us seriously. But they should have.

Everybody pegged it as good versus evil, especially with the Miami players walking out of that steak-fry event before the game. People latched on to that and to the brashness of Jimmy Johnson and the whole squad. I know for a fact that if Joe Paterno were coaching the Miami Hurricanes, that never would've happened. He does it the right way. He believes in what he preaches: good citizens, good students and good, hard-nosed football players. That's why he didn't mention the drama a lot. Joe was only concerned about us. That being said, it was funny. When they up and left that banquet, it didn't matter to us. We just thought, Who cares? For them to just get up and walk out in the middle of it was very disrespectful to the people who planned the event, but it certainly didn't matter to us. Once the ball is kicked off, that's all that matters.

Miami had so many weapons, including Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testaverde, who threw for more yards than anybody that season. We knew that we wouldn't stop him, but hopefully we could slow him down long enough to get our offense on the field. My first interception in the game completely surprised me. Vinny threw the ball, and it hit me directly in the face. I took two steps and fell.

What always sticks out in my mind happened during one of the first series, the play where Michael Irvin was running and Ray Isom just lit him up. That hit set the tone for the rest of the game. I can still hear that crack. I bet Irvin hasn't been hit like that since.

With just under nine minutes left in the game Miami was up 10--7. Vinny was throwing every time. I got a read on the ball, and I jumped and made a pretty good catch. Then I just took off and went to the races. I didn't really get caught as much as I tripped over a player who had stepped out in front of me. I got the ball to the five-yard line, and D.J. Dozier sealed the win when he brought the ball in for a touchdown. But it was the last interception, in the end zone, when Miami had a shot to win, that I will never forget. It was just an unbelievable feeling when Pete Giftopoulos picked off that pass and the game was over. We won the game the right way—Joe's way.

We had a lot of fun after the game. We were out late that night, and the next morning I had to get in a limo with Joe Paterno to do an interview on Good Morning America. Even though I was hurting from the night before, I spoke more to Joe during that limo ride than I did during my entire five years there. Finally I asked him, "What do you think? How much longer do you see yourself coaching?" He said, "Eh, I think I've got two or three more years."