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Posted on Sun, Sep. 08, 2002 story:PUB_DESC
Emotional rivalry revisited
No. 9 Nebraska will visit Penn State, idle for a week, for the first time in 20 years.

Inquirer Staff Writer

The current players who suit up for Penn State and Nebraska were yet to be born or were in the toddler stages of their football careers in 1982, so what happened on Sept. 25 of that season probably means nothing to them.

For that, the Nittany Lions and their vast legion of followers should be grateful. Underdog Penn State will have enough problems dealing with the Cornhuskers when Nebraska comes to Beaver Stadium for the first time in 20 years for a game on prime-time network television Saturday night.

Coach Joe Paterno's team, idle this weekend after beating Central Florida, 27-24, in last week's opener, doesn't need Nebraska to come to town with an extra jolt of emotion.

No one with a keen sense of Penn State's football tradition can deny that the Nittany Lions' 27-24 win over the Huskers 20 years ago was among the most significant in school history. After all, Penn State would not have gone on to finish No. 1 in the country without it.

On the other hand, many Nebraska fans with long memories will always insist the Huskers were robbed like never before, or at any time since.

In late September '82, Nebraska was ranked No. 2 and Penn State No. 8. Led by quarterback Todd Blackledge and the great running back Curt Warner, the Nittany Lions had a 14-0 lead wiped out by Nebraska, which had the nation's most devastating running attack - the elusive Turner Gill at quarterback, precisely running the option; Roger Craig, who became a brilliant all-purpose back for Joe Montana's 49ers; eventual Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier, a product of Camden's Woodrow Wilson High School.

With 13 seconds remaining and Penn State down, 24-21, Blackledge tossed a second-and-4 pass to tight end Mike McCloskey, who made a sideline catch at the 2-yard line. The Cornhuskers argued vehemently that McCloskey, from Father Judge High School, was out of bounds when he made the catch. Video replays proved the Huskers right. Sixteen years later, McCloskey admitted he was out of bounds during a speech in Boys Town, Neb. The next play, Blackledge completed a touchdown pass to tight end Kirk Bowman, who was nicknamed "Stonehands" by his teammates.

In the inaugural Kickoff Classic at Giants Stadium that opened the 1983 season, vengeance was Nebraska's. With Cornhuskers fans wearing T-shirts depicting an exaggerated sideline at Beaver Stadium, Nebraska embarrassed the Nittany Lions, 44-6.

The Kickoff Classic ended five consecutive years during which the two teams met. Nonetheless, Penn State and Nebraska would be linked in another controversy. In 1994, both went undefeated, but the Bowl Championship Series had yet to be instituted, so they couldn't meet in a bowl game to settle the raging debate over which team was better. In the end, voters in both the Associated Press media poll and the coaches poll selected Nebraska the national champion. Penn State was No. 2.

"I was kind of liking Nebraska a little bit," said Penn State linebacker LaMar Stewart, somewhat sheepishly. "Playing Nebraska will be like a dream come true for me. I can't wait to get on the field."

Clearly, Penn State and Nebraska have an intriguing history, particularly for two teams that have met only five times since Paterno became head coach in 1966. Saturday's game will be the first of a home-and-away series.

The Cornhuskers, crushed by Miami in last season's national championship game, have remained among the game's elite. They're ranked No. 9 by AP and No. 8 by the coaches. Coming off back-to-back losing seasons, the Nittany Lions, No. 25 in the coaches voting, are trying to reverse a downward trend.

Some years, Paterno welcomes a bye week leading into a game of this magnitude. This isn't one of them. Nebraska has played three games, allowing junior quarterback Jammal Lord to ease into his difficult role as successor to Eric Crouch. Penn State, which played in fits and starts in the opener, was originally scheduled to play Virginia yesterday, but the Cavaliers asked to move the game to Nov. 9 because they had also scheduled South Carolina for yesterday.

A year ago, the Penn State-Virginia game was postponed because of the Sept. 11 attacks. Penn State went on to lose to Wisconsin in its second game. It was the Badgers' fourth game.

"Now we're going through the same thing," Paterno said. "We're going to play a Nebraska team which will have had three games while we've had one. I was not for it, but supposedly there was no way they [Virginia] could get out of the contract [with South Carolina] or whatever. So we agreed to postpone it, but I wasn't happy about it."

It's not likely Paterno will get sympathy from the Cornhuskers.


Contact Ray Parrillo at 215-854-2743 or rparrillo@phillynews.com.
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