Bernard Fernandez | THE NITTANY LINE: Blackledge looking forward to reliving past

Posted: September 07, 2007

So it's the laughter

We will remember

Whenever we remember ...

The way we were.

- Lyrics from "The Way We Were," 1973

TODD BLACKLEDGE is 46 now, but the former Penn State quarterback remembers the way it was in that wondrous fall of 1982, when he and a special group of players defied the odds to win the first of coach Joe Paterno's two national championships.

Oh, there was laughter, all right. How can there not be when you finish No. 1 in the polls? There even was an occasional sense of relief, like on Sept. 25 of that year, when Blackledge's 2-yard touchdown pass to Kirk Bowman with 4 seconds remaining lifted the Nittany Lions past visiting Nebraska, 27-24.

But Blackledge, who'll serve as the analyst for ESPN's telecast of tomorrow night's game between No. 14 Penn State and Notre Dame in Beaver Stadium, recalls that it wasn't all good times and smooth sailing. Not that the halftime reunion ceremony commemorating the silver anniversary of that wild ride to the top of the college football world is likely to dwell on any negatives.

"I remember how thrilling it was winning the Nebraska game, and I also remember how horrible it felt in the locker room at Legion Field [in Birmingham] after the Alabama game. At that point you really don't know what's in store for you. But we knew we had a good football team."

Penn State was 4-0 heading into the Oct. 9 game against the Crimson Tide in what proved to be the final coaching matchup of Paterno and 'Bama legend Paul "Bear" Bryant. The Lions left with a 4-1 mark after taking a 42-21 thumping that, in most years, would have effectively squashed any national-championship ambitions.

But, one by one, other undefeated teams lost while Penn State won six straight to rise to No. 2 in the rankings, behind only unbeaten Georgia, its opponent in the Sugar Bowl.

And when Blackledge fired a fourth-quarter pass to former walk-on Gregg Garrity to seal Penn State's 27-23 victory, the Lions knew they had come all the way back.

"For any team to win a national championship, it has to catch a few breaks," Blackledge said. "I remember when SMU went for an extra point and a tie against Arkansas (which finished 11-0-1) that would give it the Southwest Conference championship and a berth in the Cotton Bowl. They made it, but by not going for two and the win we were able to jump them in the polls, from [No.] 3 to 2.

"Really, our 1982 team wasn't the most talented Penn State has ever had. The 1981 team was superior in terms of physical talent. But in '82, we had good chemistry, good leadership. Our intangibles were incredible."

Blackledge's broadcasting commitments prevented him from attending the 20-year reunion of that 1982 championship team, and he thought he'd miss this one for the same reason. His crew originally was scheduled to work the LSU-Virginia Tech game tomorrow night in Baton Rouge, La.

"This is a very special opportunity for me, on a lot of levels," said Blackledge, who will be doing a national telecast of a game in Beaver Stadium for the first time. "I had kind of resigned myself that I wasn't going to be here. But then my assignment changed. Needless to say, I'm thrilled.

"I think there's going to be 70 to 75 guys from our team here, many of whom I have not seen in a very long time. We have a tailgate thing the afternoon before the game and I'll be able to catch up on old times. I'm really looking forward to it."

Required reading

Tom Zbikowski, Notre Dame's All-America safety, said there were at least a few silver linings for the Fighting Irish defense in the very dark cloud that was last week's 33-3, season-opening loss to Georgia Tech.

"We all need to be on the same page," Zbikowski said. "When you look at the plays when we were all on the same page, there really was not that much yardage to be gained. When we kind of all over the place, that's when they hit us."

Before everyone can be on the same page, it does help for everyone to be reading the same book. And toward that end, Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis is proving to be a stern librarian.

"The last couple of practices have been pretty physical," said Zbikowski, a fifth-year senior. "It's been one of the more physical weeks that I've seen since I've been here."


Was that the film of the Georgia Tech game that Weis was watching Monday, or "The Exorcist"?

Asked for his reaction to what he had seen in the projection room, Weis said, "I wanted to vomit."

Relatively speaking

At some point in the game it's possible that Penn State wide receiver Jordan Norwood could find himself covered by his cousin, third-team Notre Dame cornerback Leo Ferrine.

"We're not super-close, but we've gotten a little bit closer since we've gone to college," Norwood said. "I talked to him probably a month ago. I'll probably talk to him after the game."

Hopefully, Norwood might have added, to offer condolences.



Who: Notre Dame at Penn State

When: Tomorrow, 6 p.m.

Where: Beaver Stadium, State College


Radio:WNTP (990-AM); WNPV (1440-AM)

Records: Notre Dame 0-1; Penn State 1-0

History: With last season's 41-17 romp in South Bend, Ind., the Fighting Irish took a 9-8-1 series lead. When the two schools were independents, they met every year from 1981 through '92, during which time the Nittany Lions won eight of 12.

Coaches: Notre Dame, Charlie Weis (third season, 19-7); Penn State, Joe Paterno (42nd season, 364-121-3)

About Notre Dame: True freshman Jimmy Clausen, who went 42-0 in 3 years as the starting quarterback at Oaks Christian High in California, gets his first college start - and behind an offensive line that yielded nine sacks in last week's 33-3 home loss to Georgia Tech. "Covering against him [in practice], you can see he's capable of making all the throws, the throws that some quarterbacks can't make," said Irish safety Tom Zbikowski ... Weis had his team go through it's "noise" drills yesterday, to get the players acclimated to a loud and hostile crowd of 117,000-plus. "We try to work on mental concentration," Weis said. "One thing you do know is that if you're in the shotgun, you can't hear."

About Penn State: Even though the Lions rushed for 236 yards in last week's 59-0 rout of Florida International, they at times seemed tentative in the face of FIU's line stunts and the ground game didn't get untracked until the second half. Paterno will want to see a more effective running game early against Notre Dame ... Redshirt freshman punter Jeremy Boone, who replaces 4-year starter Jeremy Kapinos, averaged 47.4 yards on five punts in his first start ... Redshirt freshman quarterback Pat Devlin, the former Downingtown High star, made his varsity debut against FIU and had one incompleted pass.


Penn State 31, Notre Dame 10.

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