THE GREATEST MOMENT IN PENN STATE FOOTBALL HISTORY
Joe Paterno and #2-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions defeated the #1-ranked Miami Hurricanes 14-10 in Tempe, claiming their 2nd National Championship in 4 years.
In one of the most dramatic finishes to a National Championship game ever, the Penn State defense intercepted Heisman Trophy winning QB Vinny Testaverde 5 times and forced a total of 7 turnovers in holding Miami's high-powered offense far below their season average of 38 points.
The Hurricanes struck first, capitalizing on a John Shaffer fumble (4:45-mark) with a 1-yard Melvin Bratton touchdown (5:05-mark) to take a 7-0 lead early in the 2nd-qtr. The Nittany Lions responded, with a 13-play 74-yard drive capped off by John Shaffer's 4-yard scramble into the endzone (6:02-mark) to tie the game a 7 going into halftime.
Following a halftime interview with U.S. President Ronald Reagan (6:42-mark), Miami rebounded from a scoreless 3rd-qtr to regain the lead early in the 4th on a 38-yard FG by Mark Seelig (9:25-mark). With Penn State's offense struggling, All-American LB Shane Conlan made arguably the play of the game, intercepting his 2nd-pass of the game and returning it 39 yards to the Miami 5-yard line (9:48-mark). Two plays later, All-American RB D.J. Dozier rumbled in from 6-yards out to give Penn State a 14-10 lead (10:09-mark) with 8 minutes remaining.
Miami received one final chance, and Vinny Testaverde calmly drove the Hurricanes (10:32-mark) to a first-and-goal with less than a minute remaining. Facing a 4th&Goal with 18-seconds left, Testaverde's final pass was intercepted by Pete Giftopoulos (11:26-mark) and Joe Paterno was given his 2nd National Championship ride to midfield (12:14-mark).
The game became a hallmark of Joe Paterno's career and coaching philosophy (don't beat yourself - defense first, then special teams, offense last). Miami outgained Penn State in total yardage (445-to-162) and first-downs (22-to-8), but their 7 turnovers proved to be the difference in the game.
Despite both teams' undefeated records, the championship matchup itself was facilitated out of unsual circumstances. Since both Penn State and Miami were still independants, none of the 4 major bowls (Cotton, Orange, Rose, Sugar) could orchestrate a matchup so the Fiesta Bowl and NBC stepped in and scheduled a nationally televised Championship game to air on January 2nd. The game drew a then-college football record 70 million viewers, and established the Fiesta Bowl as a championship-caliber bowl game.