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Penn State and the Ghosts of Blue/White Past: 1994
Thanks to the quirks of this year’s calendar, Penn State’s annual intra-squad scrimmage will be upon us earlier than usual and is now just a week away (let’s hope to avoid a repeat of last year’s wind and snow). Much has changed for the program since the Lions last capped off Spring practice with a Blue-White Game, from reductions in the stifling NCAA sanctions to the departure and replacement of Bill O’Brien. The excitement surrounding Coach Franklin and his staff has been palpable around the region, and I fully expect that energy will draw a large, vibrant crowd from across Nittany Nation on Saturday.
Last year I revisited the The Daily Collegian’s coverage of the 1982 Blue-White Game. For 2014, I chose to look back at what people were saying in the months leading up to the Fall of 1994, a year in which Penn State would showcase one of the most potent offenses in the history of modern college football and earn a trip to the Rose Bowl.
Penn State football stood on the cusp of a new era entering 1994, having just completed its first season as a member of the Big Ten following decades as an independent Eastern powerhouse. Many analysts and fans (and perhaps more than a few rival athletic directors and coaches) thought it was simply a matter of time before the Nittany Lions overwhelmed their venerable brethren in pursuit of conference and national titles. History records that things did not go exactly as planned on that score, but during Old State’s second year of league play, the era of Blue and White dominance appeared to be right on schedule. The ’94 Lions, still mentioned in reverent tones far beyond Happy Valley, unleashed a virtually unstoppable offense that featured over a dozen future NFL players, including multiple first-round selections in the 1995 Draft. The ’94 team triumphed in some of the program’s most memorable contests ever on the way to an unblemished record, yet was inexplicably denied a deserved share of the championship awarded to Tom Osborne’s undefeated Nebraska Cornhuskers. For the most part, it doesn’t feel like 20 years; although in some respects of course, it seems far longer.
A few points that stood out from The Daily Collegian‘s preview of the 1994 Spring Game:
- Unlike many special seasons, including the 1982 title run I profiled last year, fans seemed to have a strong sense of what might be in store. Most of the concern focused – appropriately – on the defense, a group that was understandably overshadowed by their counterparts and probably underappreciated as a result, but who also fell a few notches short of the units on other great Penn State teams. Meanwhile, the offensive forecast was downright optimistic, though I’m not sure anyone expected the juggernaut-level output to come. Kyle Brady openly dreams of an undefeated season and national championship!
- Speaking of Brady, the legendary tight end almost left school before the ’94 season – twice. As Ryan Jones, senior editor of The Penn Stater and then-Collegian sports writer, reports, Brady, a highly-touted recruit, flirted with the idea of transfer early in his career after an injury allowed former walk-on (and future NFLer) Troy Drayton to supplant him in the lineup. After choosing to stick it out, Brady came close to passing on his senior campaign to join the pros. While he pondered the wisdom of his choice at the time, we know now that it paved the way for his place in Penn State lore and rise to the ninth overall pick in the following year’s draft.
Read and enjoy these articles as you count down the hours before you pack up the car for the trip back “home” or open your door to returning friends and family. You’ll no doubt smile more than once, at those little details that are different today and the bigger things that are virtually unchanged. Looking back into Old State’s past fosters a special appreciation for ways in which the Nittany Valley is at once dynamic and timeless.