They say you always remember your first. Well, in BC's case, when it comes to beating Penn State, how could you not? Eleven times, from 1949 to 1982, the Eagles faced Rip Engle or Joe Paterno's Nittany Lions and always finished on the short end of the scoreboard. Seven of the eleven Penn State wins were by 20 points or more, with only the second game in the series in 1950 decided by a touchdown or less (20-13).
In those days, Penn State was the standard bearer for Eastern football. They carried the torch for programs that outside the occasional rise of a Syracuse or Pittsburgh, were ill equipped to compete consistently on the national stage. They were Big Ten, before they were Big Ten. These were the days when the famed Big 33 all star game between high school seniors in Pennsylvania and Ohio showcased two states that were arguably two of the top four states in the country for producing football talent (along with Texas and California).
It appeared in 1982 that the tide might turn. Penn State came to Alumni Stadium at 6-1 ranked #8 in the country, their only loss a convincing 42-21 defeat in Legion Field against Alabama. BC, with sophomore QB Doug Flutie, was making waves in the East. The Eagles were 5-1-1 and—although not ranked in the top 20 (no such thing as a top 25 in those days)—had wins at Texas A&M and a tie against defending National Champion, Clemson, in Death Valley.
Alumni was stuffed to the gills. As a sophomore myself at the time, I remember sitting in the student section and losing or gaining five yards of field position during timeouts as the section shifted from having ten or more extra people in a row.
Flutie threw for 520 yards, still a BC record to this date and still I believe the opposition record against PSU, but it wasn't nearly enough. The Eagles were thrashed, 52-17, by a team that eventually won the '82 National Title and I believe to this day is the best team I ever saw in person at BC (well at least alongside the 2001 Miami national title team).
Would 1983 be different? Early on in the season that looked to be the case.
Penn State opened the season with hopes of a title repeat. But Mike Rozier and Nebraska quickly showed that this would not be the Nittany Lion squad that had hoisted the trophy the year before, blasting JoePa and company 44-6 in the inaugural Kickoff Classic in the Meadowlands.
The Lions followed that up with losses to Cincinnati and Iowa, before rattling off five consecutive wins including victories over #3 Alabama and #4 West Virginia to stand at 5-3 and headed into the BC game playing their best football of the season.
BC entered the game 5-1, having lost only to West Virginia in a game where starting tailback Troy Stradford was lost on the opening kickoff. The Eagles had a huge early season win vs Clemson, scoring 28 consecutive points in the 2nd half in one of the most impressive home wins of all time. Other than the win over the Tigers though, the Eagles were looking for something to define the season, as talk of a New Year's Day Bowl (the Fiesta at that point) started to surface.
A Sullivan Stadium crowd of 56,188 showed up for an ABC nationally televised 3:30 kick, with the legendary broadcast team of Keith Jackson and Frank Broyles calling the action.
BC wasted no time, driving 80 yards in thirteen plays on the opening possession with Doug Flutie hitting Brian Brennan for a 10 yard touchdown pass on to stake the Eagles to an immediate 7-0 lead.
The Eagles would stretch the lead to 21-0 in the second quarter, shocking Jackson and Broyles along with the legion of Penn State fans in attendance. First a bizarre Flutie to Brennan pass was tipped and wound up in the waiting arms of Troy Stradford, who took it the distance for what became a 67-yard TD pass to put the Eagles up 14-0. On the very next possession BC blocked a Penn State punt an in three plays converted the block into six points with Steve Strachan racing around left end.
Despite its offensive struggles, the Lions would cut the lead to 24-17 midway through the 4th quarter before Flutie found Brennan again, this time on a spectacular diving catch at the feet of Joe Paterno. The play lead to a Kevin Snow clinching field goal and at least for a day, erased 34 years and 11 games of frustration as Boston College became the Beast of the East.
The Football Video Network has posted the first half of the game on Youtube (just click the link), great to check out the Golden Eagles as Keith Jackson called them. Amazing how far Boston College has come in the world of college football.
Enjoy the Pinstripe Bowl and Go Eagles!