Joe Paterno

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The last time the Penn State Nittany Lions won the national championship…

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Joe Paterno had plenty of national championship-worthy teams during his lengthy coaching career, but he only saw his team crowned national champion twice. In 1982, the Nittany Lions went 11-1 and defeated Herschel Walker and the Georgia Bulldogs to finally give Paterno his long-awaited national championship. Three years later, the Nittany Lions came up short in the Orange Bowl against Barry Switzer and his Oklahoma Sooners. But Penn State would be back to play for a national championship the following season, and they would do so as a pretty big underdog in a clash of college football cultures.

In 1986, Penn State moved their the regular season without a blip. John Shaffer will never go down as one of Penn State’s top quarterbacks, but he got the job done with a running game fueled by D.J. Dozier. Penn State’s defense was one of the best in school history, with Shane Conlan anchoring things at linebacker. No team scored more than 19 points on Penn State in 1986, including No. 2 Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Oct. 25, 1986. The upset by the visiting No. 6 Nittany Lions threw Penn State into the national title picture for the final month of the season.

A 24-19 victory at Notre Dame followed by a 34-14 home victory against Pitt to close out the regular season assured Penn State would be no worse than No. 2 going into the bowl season, and thus a national championship game was in the cards.

Penn State would play the decided underdog in the Fiesta Bowl against No. 1 Miami, coached by Jimmy Johnson, quarterbacked by Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testaverde and starring players like Michael Irvin and Jerome Brown. The game would help make the Fiesta Bowl one of the top bowl games it is today, as the unique opportunity to pit No. 1 vs. No. 2 threw the Fiesta Bowl out of its typical pre-Rose Bowl lead-in spot into primetime on its own day, and it pulled in a massive rating for NBC. The classic “Good vs. Evil” storyline was on full display as the teams got off the planes in Arizona, Penn State in their typical travel attire and Miami coming off the plane in battle fatigues. Miami would later walk out of a joint team dinner with Jerome Brown infamously asking “Did the Japanese sit down and have dinner at Pearl Harbor before they bombed them?”

Miami was a heavy favorite, as they had been dominant all season long, but Penn State’s defense would keep the Hurricanes in check. The game reached halftime knotted at 7-7. Miami’s only score came following a fumble recovery at the Penn State 23-yard line. Miami heavily out-gained Penn State, but the Nittany Lion defense buckled down when it had to. Miami ended the game with a 445-162 advantage in offensive yards, and Miami racked up 22 first downs to Penn State’s eight. But the feisty and determined Penn State defense forced a stunning seven turnovers against the nation’s top team, including five interceptions of Testaverde. The final interception, by linebacker Pete Giftopoulos, helped clinch a national title for Penn State, the second and final one for Paterno.

It’s been a while since the Nittany Lions were the No. 1 team. LEt’s look back at what else was happening in 1986 when Penn State won it all.

Last National Championship: 1986 (33 years and counting)

Who was President?

Ronald Reagan was in the White House in 1987, when the Fiesta Bowl for the 1986 season was played, so the Nittany Lions made a trip to the White House. Reagan was in the Oval Office each time Penn State won the national championship.

The current president, Donald Trump, was paying $70 million to buy out the interest in a casino property following poor financial results. He also received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

What was on TV?

America was loving the sitcoms of the day. The Cosby Show continued to pull in the top ratings, followed by Family Ties and Cheers as NBC was leading the way with Must See TV at the time. The Golden Girls was also a hit on NBC, as well as Night CourtMurder, She Wrote was leading the way for CBS and ABC was not doing too bad with Growing PainsMoonlighting and Who’s the Boss? It’s safe to say, the theme shows from all of these shows probably still give you some warm fuzzy feelings.

1986 marked the debut for some notable television shows, such as MatlockPerfect StrangersL.A. Law, and ALF. One of the top game shows on Nickelodeon made its debut with the premiere of Double Dare. And one of the most iconic daytime talk shows hit the air for the first time with Oprah Winfrey launching The Oprah Winfrey Show.

There were some notable shows that also went off the air in 1986 as well. David Hasselhoff and KITT rode off into the sunset with the final episode of Knight RiderThe Love Boat also dropped anchor on its run on television after a decade of programming. And The Merv Griffin Show, which debuted in 1972, wrapped up as well. The set of the show would later show up in an episode of Seinfeld.

What movies were hot?

Do you have the need? The need for speed? Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer starred in the top-grossing movie of 1986 with the release of “Top Gun,” and you will never escape the visuals and the music for as long as you live.

Maybe Penn State fans will hope the stars align once again with a brand new “Top Gun” movie coming in 2020. The box office in 1986 was also fueled by some sequels, including “The Karate Kid Part II,” “Aliens,” and “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.” A cult classic was also born in 1986 with the release of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

A couple of other cult classics of sorts included “Little Shop of Horrors” and “The Three Amigos,” each featuring Steve Martin. Oen of the best sports movies of all time was also released with Gene Hackman starring in “Hoosiers.”

On the other side of the spectrum, and in a world long before movies involving Marvel characters were a sure box office hit, “Howard the Duck” also hit theaters to dismal reviews and results.

What else happened in 1986?

College football’s conference championships in 1986 were awarded to Arizona State (Pac-10), LSU (SEC), Michigan and Ohio State (Big Ten), Oklahoma (Big Eight), Clemson (ACC), Texas A&M (Southwest Conference), San Diego State (WAC), San Jose State (PAcific Coast Athletic Association) and Miami Ohio (MAC). Oklahoma’s Brian Bosworth was named the Dick Butkus Award winner, while Testaverde won the Heisman Trophy.

The most iconic moment of the year in sports in 1986 happened in the World Series, when a baseball off the bat of Mookie Wilson got by Boston Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner, allowing the New York Mets to steal Game 6 of the World Series. The Mets, of course, kept the Red Sox World Series drought ongoing by capturing the second (and most recent) world championship in franchise history.

A season after the Chicago Bears did the Super Bowl shuffle earlier in 1986, it was Bill Parcells, Phil Simms, Lawrence Taylor and the New York Giants that were on their way to a Super Bowl championship during the 1986 season. The Giants would capture their Super Bowl title in the Rose Bowl, back when the NFL would play their championship game in a college football venue.

Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics took down the Houston Rockets in six games in the NBA Finals. Louisville won the NCAA MEn’s Basketball Tournament over Duke.

Mike Tyson became the youngest world heavyweight boxing champion at 20 years and four months with a knock out of Trevor Berbick. On the flip side of the age spectrum, Jack Nicklaus became the oldest Masters winner (46) and won his last major golf championship at The Master’s.

What about that 1994 team?

A few years after winning the national championship, the landscape of football started to change with expansion. Penn State would make the move to join the Big Ten in 1993, with some believing the Nittany Lions would become a regular Big Ten champion. After taking a couple losses in conference play in 1993, Penn State put together one of the best offenses college football had seen in 1994 and ran the table to go 11-0 and win the Big Ten title. The championship earned Penn State a trip to the Rose Bowl, where Paterno would become the first coach to win each of the four major bowl games (Rose Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl). Penn State was locked into the Rose Bowl as the Big Ten champion and was forced to face Pac-10 champion and No. 12 Oregon, while top-ranked Big 8 champion Nebraska was free to play their bowl game against No. 3 Miami in the Orange Bowl. Penn State would play their Rose Bowl a day after Nebraska defeated Miami, when the argument for the national championship was all but decided by the media after the Huskers pulled away from the Hurricanes.

Years later the debate still wages on for some; would Penn State have beaten Nebraska in a national championship game in 1994? They most certainly would have scored some points on Nebraska, but the Huskers offense would have been able to pile up some yards and point son Penn State’s defense as well. It remains a fun debate to this day.

Penn State has had a few years where a national championship season was off to a good start, but tough losses in nail-biting fashion and blowout fashion in conference play have derailed those hopes over the years. A bizarre home loss to Minnesota. A last-second loss at Michigan and at Iowa. Being unable to hold leads against Michigan State or Ohio State. Penn State’s more recent seasons under James Franklin have had some promise for a possible spot in the College Football Playoff, and the Nittany Lions could be a program that makes regular appearance son the playoff radar in the years to come.

Three years after the NCAA hammer, Penn State still alive and well

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Three summers ago Penn State’s football program was thought to be wiped as much from existence as a program can get this side of the SMU death penalty. The NCAA dropped a three-ton anvil on the program following the release of the Freeh Report related to the university’s handling of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and his sickening crimes against children both on and off campus; a $60 million fine, a four-year postseason ban, 112 victories vacated, a loss of scholarships ultimately limiting the program to 65 available scholarships instead of the NCAA limit of 85, five years of probation and the possibility of further NCAA investigations following criminal proceedings related to Penn State officials. A lot has changed since that July morning in 2012. Through it all, Penn State has managed to not only survive but also find a path moving forward with great promise.

NCAA president Mark Emmert suggested Penn State had a culture problem on its hands, where the football way of life trumped all other facets of the university. Some applauded Emmert and the NCAA for going all in on Penn State. Others believed the NCAA should have gone further. Others felt it was too harsh a punishment or the NCAA had no jurisdiction on the Penn State shortcomings. Everyone had a side on this subject, and many have stuck to those opinions over the years. Whatever your opinion was at the time, things looked bleak for the future of Penn State football.

The NCAA assigned former Senator George Mitchell to monitor and keep tabs on Penn State by way of an annual progress report. Through Mitchell’s reports, the NCAA saw fit to cut back on some of the sanctions dropped on the program. First the NCAA handed back a handful of scholarships. It later lifted all scholarship restrictions as well as the final two years of the postseason ban. Finally, the program was relieved of all NCAA sanction terms earlier this year with all vacated wins going back on the books, although Penn State remained committed to fulfilling its intent to pay off the $60 million fine, with that money being put to good use to promote the awareness of child and sexual abuse in Pennsylvania.

New head coach Bill O’Brien, the former offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots, served admirably in his role as head coach and should someday be recognized for the job he did in his two years in State College. O’Brien took over a program some deemed toxic and was soon hampered even more with the sanctions. O’Brien could have whined about the situation left and right, but instead he kept the program moving forward with whatever players chose to stay with him. Yes, some players took advantage fo a free transfer opportunity from the sanctions (most notably running back Silas Redd to USC), and some recruits opted to go elsewhere. O’Brien worked with what he had, and decided to fight for the players who remained committed. Names were placed on the jerseys to recognize those who stayed. Some schools say those who stay will be champions. Penn State’s 2012 squad may not have won a championship, but it was honored on the inside of Beaver Stadium alongside past memorable teams like the Big Ten champions of 2005 and 2008, the undefeated 1994 team and the national championship squads of the 1980s. Penn State’s 2012 team had a championship mentality and personality.

O’Brien left after two years at Penn State to become the head coach of the NFL’s Houston Texans. O’Brien always seemed like a coach looking for an NFL opportunity, and few begrudge him for leaving the program when he did. This is because he made sure the program would be as ready to take the next steps forward as possible under grave circumstances. Penn State hired Vanderbilt’s James Franklin, who is now in the midst of doing just that with a full allotment of scholarships and no sanctions to work around. Depth is rebuilding, and the pride in the program remains. It may even be stronger than ever before, as the football program has ironically played a role in bringing the community together in a new way. This season Penn State will strip the names off the jerseys in another show of moving forward while embracing the tradition of the program.

Penn State’s football program may very well have been the product of a football culture gone overboard to some degree, but it also plays a role in the rebuilding the faith of a fractured community. There is still work to be done in State College, Pennsylvania and the pains suffered by the victims of Sandusky may never heal, but the football program can serve as an outlet to promote awareness of child and sexual abuse in the community. Lessons can be learned from the Penn State saga, and ultimately that is more valuable than any win experienced on the field.

New Joe Paterno-themed beer will be the beer of choice at Penn State tailgate parties

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You read that correctly. There is going to be a beer brewed in honor of the late Penn State football coach, Joe Paterno. His son, Jay Paterno, has started a business relationship with brewing industry veteran Mark Dudash to begin brewing Paterno Legacy Series beer, according to The Pittsburgh Tribune.

The premium American lager will be available in 12-ounce cans from the Latrobe City Brewing Co. and should be available in time for football season, naturally. So start expecting to see The Paterno Legacy Series beer at tailgate parties all around Beaver Stadium this fall. It will surely be a necessity for many tailgaters in Happy Valley.

The selection of the Latrobe brewery was not a coincidence. Latrobe is where Paterno’s wife, Sue Paterno, is from and where the Paternos were married. It is also a local brewery, which helps keep jobs in-state. In addition, a portion of the proceeds will be donated to a foundation or charity of Sue Paterno’s choosing. As noted by The Pittsburgh Tribune, the Paternos have always been leaders in supporting the Special Olympics and have taken up a more active role in promoting child sexual abuse awareness in light of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

NCAA once again defends itself in handling of Penn State sanctions

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The NCAA may have rescinded the sanctions levied on Penn State three summers ago, but it continues to defend the way it responded to the Jerry Sandusky scandal in State College. In court documents filed Wednesday in the Paterno family lawsuit, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports the NCAA says the Sandusky scandal “fell squarely within” its authority and stated the crimes involved showed “a profound lack of institutional integrity and institutional control.”

The NCAA is standing by the findings of the Louis Freeh Report, which was adopted by the NCAA in place of its own investigation of Penn State. The NCAA has claimed time and time again the findings in the Freeh Report were more thorough and concise than any investigation the NCAA would have been capable of putting together, although the integrity of Freeh himself has come under scrutiny on multiple occasions as well.

In April NCAA President Mark Emmert admitted he could have handled the Penn State situation a little differently, but he has also defending the NCAA’s involvement and need to respond to everything that occurred on Penn State’s campus and around the football program.

The NCAA slammed Penn State with a four-year postseason ban, a significant reduction in scholarships, a hefty $60 million fine and vacated 112 wins of which 11 were credited to the late Joe Paterno. Those sanctions were handed down in the summer of 2012, following the publication and release of the Louis Freeh Report. Since issuing the sanctions, the NCAA partially restored scholarships following positive annual reviews from George Mitchell. Last September the NCAA lifted the final two years of the postseason ban, allowing Penn State the opportunity to play in the Pinstripe Bowl last December. In January the NCAA lifted the remainder of the sanction terms and restored all vacated victories, although an agreement was made for Penn State to continue paying off the $60 million to go toward child abuse awareness.

Sandusky was found guilty of 45 counts related to child sexual abuse and is serving 30-60 years in prison.

PA lawmaker wants to name bridge after Joe Paterno

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Get your hot takes ready, America. Pennsylvania representative Michael Regan is preparing to introduce a state bill that would name a bridge after former Penn State head coach Joe Paterno. This led PennLive to ask whether it is safe to start naming things after Paterno. Proceed with caution.

The answer to that question will undoubtedly depend on a few things. First, are you a student or alumnus of Penn State? If so, you will probably say yes. Are you a fan of Penn State but did not go to Penn State? Again, your answer will likely be yes. Do you actively root against Penn State when given the opportunity to choose sides? If you said yes, then your answer will probably be no.

Any time the subject of Joe Paterno and his legacy come up, it remains a bit of a touchy subject given his connection to the unfortunate and disturbing Jerry Sandusky scandal we learned about four years ago. And that is the key. That tale unfolded four years ago this November. Has time healed enough wounds?

As far as strictly football is concerned, the NCAA has thought so. The NCAA lifted all parts of the sanctions dropped on Penn State’s program, including the restoration of 111 vacated wins from Paterno’s career win total, once again making him Division 1 football’s all-time wins leader with 409 career victories.

Per the PennLive report, Rep. Regan wants to rename a bridge on the Pennsylvania Turnpike over the Susquehanna River as the Joseph V. Paterno Memorial Bridge. The bill would need to be passed by Pennsylvania’s House and Senate and then be signed by the governor (Tom Wolf).

There was always going to be a time at some point where it would be appropriate and perhaps less controversial to begin looking back at Paterno’s legacy as Penn State’s football coach, with the benefit of hindsight and allowing time to pass by to allow for a broader perspective of the good and the bad. Perhaps this is the beginning of that time.