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Murray: He thinks, therefore he wins
College Football schedule
Thursday, September 6, 2001
The turning point for a legend
By Beano Cook
Special to ESPN.com
There is a rich tradition in the history of both the Nittany Lion and Hurricane football programs. When thinking about history, the Penn State - Miami game people remember most is usually the 14-10 Nittany Lion win over Miami in the Fiesta Bowl for the national title in 1987.
But another important Penn State-Miami game took place almost 20 years earlier. In 1966, Paterno went 5-5 in his first year as the Lions head coach. He opened the '67 season losing a heart breaker to Navy on the road, 23-22, in the closing minutes of the game. With a 5-6 record overall record, Paterno had the daunting task of facing Miami next, at the Orange Bowl.
Paterno told his wife Sue that if he wasn't able to turn it around and find a way to beat Miami, he might be looking for a new job at the end of the season. He began to do some serious tinkering with the lineup, removing several seniors, playing the young kids and making some drastic, sweeping changes. The Lions went to Miami for a Friday night game as a ten point underdog.
The kids came through for JoePa as they upset the 'Canes 17-8. He gambled to garner that victory, and Paterno would tell you to this day that it was one of the most important wins he's ever had. They lost only one other game that year, to UCLA 17-15. Florida State came back from a 17 point deficit to hand the Lions their only other non-win that year, as they tied the Seminoles 17-17 in the Gator Bowl.
Then the Lions really pulled off a trick: they didn't lose another game until 1970. After undefeated seasons in 1968 and '69, they lost to Colorado on the road in 1970.
The Miami upset in '67 still stands as one of the most important wins in Paterno's career because he considers it the turning point of his coaching career. If he had lost that game, the whole season might have fallen apart. Which might have led to Paterno not getting an opportunity for a third season -- to say nothing of becoming an eventual legend -- as the Penn State head coach.
The Lions have had plenty significant victories, some of which were for national titles, most of which they were expected to win, which makes them not as grand as the '67 game.
Beating Miami in the Fiesta Bowl established Paterno as one of the elite coaches in college football. If they had lost the Fiesta Bowl, they wouldn't have won the national title, which I'm sure would have been devastating for Paterno and the '86 team. But it still would have just been a loss.
If they had lost in '67, they might have lost more than a game or a title -- they may have lost a legend.
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