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Joe Pa vs. The Bear

This week will be full of nostalgia as Penn State and Alabama meet Saturday night for the first time since 1990. Images of past match-ups will fill the internet, televisions and radio airwaves up until that point. The classic uniforms, the historic bowl games, and a pair of iconic coaches.

Alabama and Penn State are homes to two of the biggest names in the history of the game; Joe Paterno and Paul “Bear” Bryant. Paterno with his Coke-bottle glasses and Bryant with his signature hound’s tooth cap, both coaches are unmistakable in appearance and both have a load of victories behind them. Bryant retired from coaching with 323 wins, a mark that would stand until Paterno passed the mark after the turn of the century (and Bobby Bowden and Paterno played leap frog with the title until Paterno held strong to his grip on the record). The two legends faced each other four times between 1975 and 1982, with Paterno coming up short in each meeting.

1975 Sugar Bowl
#4 Alabama 13, #8 Penn State 6

The 1975 Sugar Bowl was the first Sugar Bowl to be played in the Superdome in New Orleans and Alabama’s Bryant publicly recommended that Alabama play Penn State in the game. The Bear dipped in to a bag of superstitious tricks for the game as he was trying to break a bowl losing streak for the Crimson Tide. Bryant entered the Superdome without his trademark cap. He would later say it was because he was taught never to wear a hat indoor’s but other say it was an attempt t try something different for his team.

“Lordy, it sure didn’t come easy,” said Bear after the victory. “We beat a helluva football team tonight,” he said. “Anyone who doesn’t think that is an idiot.”

1979 Sugar Bowl
#2 Alabama 14, #1 Penn State 7

This may be the most memorable game in the series, but it did not end well for Penn State fans. With the number one ranking and making a push for Paterno’s first championship the Nittany Lions failed to punch in a ball from the one-yard line in a goal-line stand that will both go down as one of the greatest moments in program history and a moment that will forever live in infamy.

Alabama linebacker Barry Krause came out of nowhere to stop Penn State running back Mike Guman, who was looking to jump over the pile to penetrate the end zone for a score that would set Penn State up to tie the game with an extra point or go for the win with a successful two-point conversion.

November 14, 1981
#6 Alabama 31, #5 Penn State 16

The first meeting since the 1979 Sugar Bowl did not have to wait too long to happen. Three seasons after the goal line stand the two programs started a regular season series that would continue throughout the 1980’s. The series started in Beaver Stadium with once-beaten Penn State (upset by unranked Miami 17-14 to drop them from the top ranking) welcomed the Crimson Tide to Happy Valley on November 14, 1981.

Alabama built a 24-3 to take in to the half, forcing Penn State to have to rally. On 4th and one and knocking on the door for touchdown Penn State would once again be beaten by a goal line stand that was a serious punch to the gut for Nittany Lion fans. Alabama would later seal the victory with their own try from the goal line. the victory tied Bryant with Amos Alonzo Stagg for the most career victories by a head coach, with 314 total wins.

October 9, 1982
#4 Alabama 42, #3 Penn State 21

The 1982 season was a memorable one for Penn State as it ended with Joe Paterno’s first national championship in the Sugar Bowl victory against Georgia. But before reaching that point the Nittany Lions stumbled in a road game at Alabama, losing by 21 against Bryant’s Tide. Alabama would run their way out of contention for the national championship though by losing the following week at Tennessee and losing their final three games of the regular season.

Meanwhile Paterno and company won their next six games to climb back up to number two in the polls. Washington and Pittsburgh each lost their grips on the top two rankings and Penn State passed an undefeated SMU team that had a tie against Arkansas in late November.

About the Author

Kevin McGuire
Contributor to College Football Talk on Also a contributor to Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Member of Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. Follow on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.