When Alabama fans think of the Crimson Tide’s greatest rivalries, most often they think of the in-state one, Auburn.
There’s another rivalry, however, that many students have never seen in their lifetimes: the Penn State series. The series hasn’t had a game since 1990, when Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions beat Gene Stallings’ Tide 9-3.
“It’s a game that I’ve had circled on my calendar for the past four or five years,” said senior quarterback Greg McElroy. “It’s a game you tell recruits about and it’s a game that I was aware of when I first got on campus. It’s obviously one of those games; it’s kind of a showcase game. We always kept saying, ‘I hope Coach Paterno’s still coaching. It would be great to compete against him.’”
Penn State does know how to win, especially in Tuscaloosa, where they have a 2-1 edge over the Tide. Despite the Nittany Lions’ better record at Bryant-Denny Stadium, Alabama leads the overall series 8-5.
Although both teams’ players haven’t been around to actually see the game take place, they realize the notable rivalry that used to be.
“I’d say there is a little bit of a different feel,” said sophomore offensive lineman Barrett Jones. “It’s a really historic matchup. Alabama-Penn State have met many times. I’d say it’s pretty cool to be apart of something that so many great Alabama players throughout the years have been apart of. It is a pretty cool feeling.”
Saban will be the Tide’s fifth coach to take part in the matchup, while the Nittany Lions’ Joe Paterno has taken part since the first game in 1975 he coached against Paul “Bear” Bryant.
“[Penn State] has made changes through the years and made changes from last year to this year,” said head coach Nick Saban. “But one thing remains the same — they play with a lot of discipline. They play with guys that will go out and execute and do their job and not make foolish mistakes or get foolish penalties. I think they have proven over time that they know how to win, in terms of their players.”
While Paterno is known as a legend and is respected for all he’s done in his 61 years on the Penn State football staff, he wasn’t very successful in the series until his friend, Bryant, retired. Paterno was never able to win a game against the Tide with Bryant on the opposing side, thus Alabama won the first four games of the series.
In 1983, the tide turned and Ray Perkins took over as the new Alabama football coach, and the Nittany Lions got their first win. The final score was 34-28, and Penn State got its own version of The Goal Line Stand.
With just one second left, Alabama had the ball on the two-yard line. Running back Kerry Goode ran it but was stopped at the one by Penn State, mimicking Barry Krauss’s stop on Penn State running back Matt Suhey in the 1979 Sugar Bowl that gave the Tide a national championship.
“I’m excited about playing against Penn State,” said sophomore linebacker Dont’a Hightower. “Just the fact that both teams are always highly talked about and very highly respected through the years of college football. Just playing against ‘Joe Pa,’ that just means a lot to me. That just gets my blood pumping. He’s just a really great coach. The way he’s brought up that program since he’s been there’s great.”
Not only has the Penn State rivalry been about pride, but also it’s been about national championships. In five of the 13 games, one of the teams has ended up at the national championship game. This series isn’t merely about a winner or loser, it’s about championship tradition.