This Turkey, a foul old fowl, occasionally takes a nostalgia trip back to his own Penn State days. Perhaps some of the others in my vast audience who are getting a little grey around the temples (or who have lost their feathers entirely) will be able to relate to some of the ancient history I present here.
I took lots of pictures back then. Although many have been lost through the years, I am fortunate to have stumbled upon a few. One of them in particular captured a Nittany Lions defensive play (a failure, alas) against Oregon on October 4, 1964. That picture is the inspiration behind this post.
It was the 15th annual Band Day at Beaver Stadium, with sixty bands from Pennsylvania high schools performing on that early fall day. A capacity crowd of 44,000+ was present to watch the 0-2 Nittany Lions battle their distant foe from the Pac-8 conference.
Here, you see the Nittany Lion defense being stretched by a deep pass from Ducks’ quarterback Bob Berry (#15) to flanker Steve Bunker (#88). (Click on the picture to enlarge it.) While that play did not hit pay dirt, it sent a message about the deep threat. After that, the Penn State defense dropped the safeties back to guard against the bomb, in the process making them susceptible to the option run, which Oregon head coach Len Casanova did not hesitate to employ.
The Lions probably would have won this one, if it were not for six fumbles lost. The game started out pretty well for the home team. Thanks to Berry’s only mistake of the day, a fumble late in the first period on the Penn State 26, which was recovered by All-America middle guard Glenn Ressler, PSU was able to keep it close in the first half. Two plays later, Ed Stuckrath ran it in from the two yard-line, and Penn State took a 7-6 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Then came the disastrous third quarter. John Lott of the Daily Collegian described it as “probably the worst display of ball handling any State team has ever put on.” First, Don Kunit coughed it up on the PSU 32. The Ducks recovered and three plays later, they led 12-7. Having missed the PAT in the second quarter, they went for two and blew it.
Gary Klingensmith returned the ensuing kickoff 29 yards and fumbled. Oregon recovered at the Penn State 29. Three plays later, Berry found the end zone with a scoring pass to Steve Bunker. The Ducks succeeded with the extra point this time, and they took a 19-7 lead.
Later in the quarter, punter/safety Frank Hershey went back to punt. He dropped the snap, but picked it up and ran 38 yards for a first down, only to have the ball ripped out of his hands by Oregon’s Harry Cartales. Fortunately, the Ducks’ drive stalled this time.
The Lions eventually came back to add another touchdown, which the Ducks answered with a field goal in the fourth. PSU quarterback Gary Wydman went to the air several times during the final three minutes, but his final Hail Mary was intercepted by Les Palm on the Oregon 10, and that was that. Penn State suffered its third straight loss at the beginning of the 1964 season. Final score: Oregon 22, Penn State 14.
The Nittany Lions lost only one more game after that – the homecoming game with Syracuse – and they wound up being ranked #14, with a 6-4 record. They probably would have escaped the notice of the national media had they not pulled an amazing upset over Ohio State that year, traveling to Columbus and beating the #2 team in the nation 27-0. That is another story for another time. (I wrote a paragraph about that game in a 2005 post about the victory over the Buckeyes that year; I will try to provide a more robust one this year as we approach the OSU game.)
For those of you who are interested in which players were involved in the photographed play, I’ve done some research. Please click on the photo above for a larger view of it.
The players are: #80 DE Jock West, #62 LB Ellery Seitz, #61 LB Bob Kane, #53 MG Glenn Ressler, #76 T Dave Rowe, #40 CB Mike Irwin, #22 S Dick Gingrich, #83 DE Bud Yost, #17 CB Joe Vargo, and #42 S/P Frank Hershey. Unfortunately, I cannot read the number of the defender who nailed Bob Berry (#15) after he unloaded the ball.
Ressler, 1964 Maxwell Award winner and the only All-America first-teamer on the squad, played both ways: middle guard on defense and center on offense. Ressler later played offensive guard with the NFL Baltimore Colts from 1965 through 1974, appearing in two Super Bowls. Seitz, also a heavyweight wrestler who eventually became captain of the grapplers, broke his arm in this game and was lost for the season. Jerry Sandusky was injured earlier in the season and did not play this game. He was replaced by West. Mike Irwin, who would eventually become team captain, is a financial planner who currently appears on a weekly TV panel show called “The NitWits” on which each Penn State game is analyzed.
Rip Engle was the head coach back then, two years before his assistant, Joe Paterno, eventually took over at the top position.
Artificially Sweetened says
I have a dumb question. Did the Oregon team fly in to PA in 1964? If so, I bet it cost big bucks back then.
The Nittany Turkey says
That’s not a dumb question. I believe that back then, most West Coast teams used wagon trains to come back east. Passage became tricky in several areas, most notably Donner Pass, which sometimes required that kickers be consumed for sustenance, and also Central Illinois, where the Fighting Illini got their name the old fashioned way, inspiring a requisite wagon circling.
But seriously, though, charter flights were used in the 60s, but only big schools could afford them. PSU played mostly eastern opponents at that time, but the Nittany Lions also played alternating home-and-home with UCLA from 1963 to 1969, as well as hosting single games with Colorado, Air Force, and Oregon.
The Notre Dame — USC series dates back to 1926, in the days of Knute Rockne. After a few years, there was talk of canceling the series because of the long train ride from Chicago to L.A., but the rivalry persevered and it still remains a much anticipated annual battle.
Sure, the travel costs big bucks, but a full stadium ain’t exactly capybara stew.