Last Saturday, the football team at Pennsylvania State University opened their season by losing to Ohio University, 24-14, blowing a 14-3 lead, in front of 97,186 people at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania.
That’s Ohio University, the Bobcats. Not Ohio State University, the Buckeyes. Losing to Ohio University isn’t so bad if you’re, say, their conference opponents Central Michigan. But if you’re Penn State, that’s not good.
This was the first game as head coach for Bill O’Brien, taking over from Tom Bradley, who coached the last 3 games as interim coach after Joe Paterno, for whom he played as a defensive back from 1975 to 1978 and was an assistant coach thereafter, was fired due to his role in the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
So while this wasn’t the first time in ages that Penn State played without Paterno as head coach, it was the first time they played without Paterno as the face of the program since…
December 4, 1965. Penn State went to Byrd Stadium in College Park, Maryland, outside Washington, D.C., and beat the University of Maryland, 19-7. Paterno had been on the staff as an assistant since 1950, under Charles A. “Rip” Engle (shown above, 1906-1983), who had been his own head coach when he was a quarterback at Brown University, the Ivy League school in Providence, Rhode Island.
Oddly enough, after Engle’s retirement, and Paterno’s hiring as head coach, the next game was also against Maryland, on September 17, 1966 at Beaver Stadium. Penn State won that one, too, in front of 40,911 – then 88 percent of capacity, but 38 percent of what the stadium holds now (106,572 – making the 97,186 crowd 91 percent of capacity).
December 4, 1965. That’s 45 years and 9 months. How long has that been?
Penn State was then considered a decent college football program, but hardly a national power. The biggest program in the Northeast (if you can call Central Pennsylvania or Central New York State part of America’s Northeast) was Syracuse, which produced great running backs (mostly wearing Number 44) the way Paterno’s Nittany Lions would soon begin producing linebackers.
Michigan State, coached by Duffy Daugherty and led by George Webster and Bubba Smith, won the National Championship. Mike Garrett of USC won the Heisman Trophy. UCLA was the 2-time defending National Champion of college basketball, and had, a week earlier on November 27, 1965, opened Pauley Pavilion with a game between their varsity and freshmen teams. The freshmen team won, defeating the team that had won the last 2 national titles and was ranked Number 1 going into the new season. It wasn’t even close, 75-60. But then, the freshman team had Lew Alcindor, who would become the greatest college basketball player ever, and one of the top 10 pro players ever – mostly under the name Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
The NFL had 14 teams, and the American Football League 10. Merging the two leagues was just an idea, and the NFL Championship Game was called just that: “The National Football League Championship Game.” Not “the Super Bowl.”
There was a pro football team in Baltimore, but it wasn’t the Ravens. There was one in St. Louis, but it wasn’t the Rams. There was one in Houston, but it wasn’t the Texans. The Boston Patriots had yet to move out to the suburbs and became “the New England Patriots.” The Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers, Oakland Raiders, San Francisco 49ers and Patriots had yet to win any World Championships. Between them, they have now won 24.
Some of the NFL’s founding fathers were not only still alive, but still involved: George Halas with the Chicago Bears, Art Rooney with the Steelers, and Dan Reeves with the Los Angeles Rams – no relation to the Cowboys running back of the same name, later to be head coach of the Broncos, Giants and Atlanta Falcons. George Preston Marshall, the founder and owner of the Washington Redskins, had suffered a stroke and was no longer active in the team’s operation, but he was still alive.
Curly Lambeau, the founder and longtime coach of the Green Bay Packers, had died earlier in the year. The Packers’ City Stadium had just been renamed Lambeau Field in his honor. Although Candlestick Park had opened, the 49ers had not yet moved into it, so Lambeau Field remains the only stadium used by an NFL or an AFL team used in 1965 that is still used today. Jim Brown was about to retire as the NFL’s all-time leading rusher. Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus made their NFL debuts.
In baseball, the Milwaukee Braves were in the process of moving to Atlanta. There was a team in Washington, but in the American League. There was a team in Kansas City, but it wasn’t the Royals. All teams except the Chicago Cubs now had lighted ballparks, but there are only 3 ballparks used then that are still used today: The Cubs’ Wrigley Field, the Boston Red Sox’ Fenway Park, and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Dodger Stadium. Houston had just opened the Astrodome, the first roofed sports stadium, but it was still a few months away from debuting sports’ first artificial turf field. None of the NBA or NHL arenas used then are still used now.
The defining football players of my childhood? Terry Bradshaw had just led Woodlawn High School of Shreveport, Louisiana into a State Championship game, but lost. Mean Joe Greene was in his freshman year at what is now named the University of North Texas. O.J. Simpson was a freshman at the University of Southern California. Roger Staubach wasn’t playing football at all, but serving out his military commitment after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy. Walter Payton was in junior high school in Mississippi, and Joe Montana was in grade school outside Pittsburgh.
The defending World Champions in the 4 major sports were the Los Angeles Dodgers in baseball, the Cleveland Browns (believe it) in football, the Boston Celtics in basketball and the Montreal Canadiens in hockey.
The President of the United States was Lyndon Baines Johnson. A little more than a year after an overwhelming election victory, he had, in the preceding months, signed into law Medicare, Medicaid and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower were still alive. Richard Nixon was a former Vice President, a defeated nominee for President and for Governor of California, and in political exile as a corporate lawyer. Gerald Ford was the Minority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives. Jimmy Carter was a State Senator in Georgia, about to run his first, unsuccessful, campaign for Governor. Ronald Reagan had just given up acting and announced his first campaign for public office, for the office that had eluded Nixon in 1962.
George Herbert Walker Bush was an oil businessman who had been defeated for U.S. Senator from Texas, and would soon run for the House of Representatives. His son George was a sophomore at Yale University. Bill Clinton was at Georgetown University, and Hillary Rodham was at Wellesley College. Al Gore had just started at Harvard University. Joe Biden had just entered law school at Syracuse University. Mitt Romney had just entered Stanford University, although he would leave it to go on a Mormon mission; when he resumed his undergraduate studies, it was at Brigham Young University. His father, George Romney, was Governor of Michigan. Barack Obama was 4. Michelle Robinson was about to turn 2. Paul Ryan was not born yet.
The Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania – like Massachusetts, Virginia and Kentucky, the Keystone State officially calls itself a “Commonwealth” rather than a “State” – was William W. Scranton, who is still alive at age 95. (There are 2 former Governors who are older: John Anderson of Kansas is a few months older, and Raul Castro of Arizona is 96.) Current Governor Tom Corbett was in high school. Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senators at the time were Hugh Scott, later to be Senate Minority Leader, and former Philadelphia Mayor Joseph S. Clark. The current Senators? Bob Casey Jr. was 5 years old, and Pat Toomey had just turned 4. The Mayor of Philadelphia was James Tate, and of Pittsburgh Joseph M. Barr. The current holders of those officers are Michael Nutter, who was 8; and Luke Ravenstahl wasn’t born yet.
The Governor of New York was Nelson Rockefeller. John Lindsay had just been elected Mayor of New York City, to replace Robert Wagner Jr., the Mayor who let the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers get away. The Governor of New Jersey was Richard J. Hughes, newly elected to a second term.
Major novels of 1965 included Dune by Frank Herbert, Hotel by Arthur Hailey, Georgy Girl by Margaret Forster, and the last full-length James Bond novel by Ian Fleming, The Man With the Golden Gun. Truman Capote published In Cold Blood, and Alex Haley published The Autobiography of Malcolm X. A week after the Penn State game in question, the Bond film Thunderball would premiere.
The 1965-66 American television season was the first in which most shows were now in color, although only about one-third of American homes had color TV sets. Shows that debuted in that season included several fantasy shows: Batman, Lost In Space, I Dream of Jeannie, My Mother the Car, The Wild Wild West and Dark Shadows. Also I Spy (with Bill Cosby as the first black star of an American TV series – ironically for the great comedian, in a mostly serious role), Run for Your Life, The Big Valley, the soap opera Days of Our Lives, the original version of The Dating Game, and the rock music shows Hullabaloo and Shindig.
Canada's Prime Minister was Lester Pearson. Elizabeth II was Queen of England -- that still hasn't changed -- but she was just 39 years old. Britain’s Prime Minister was Harold Wilson. The English Football League season that was underway would be won by Liverpool, and the FA Cup by their neighbors and rivals, Everton. Internazionale Milano, a.k.a. Inter Milan, won their 2nd straight European Cup, defeating Benfica of Lisbon, Portugal, 1-0.
On December 9, just 5 days after the game in question, the Cincinnati Reds traded slugging outfielder Frank Robinson to the Baltimore Orioles for pitchers Milt Pappas and Jack Baldschun and outfielder Dick Simpson. Pappas was a very good pitcher, but the Reds made a huge mistake in trading away Robinson, who, in his first season in Baltimore, would lead the Orioles to their first Pennant and World Championship, winning the Triple Crown and the American League’s Most Valuable Player award, making him the first (and still only) player to win it in both Leagues. In 1970, Robinson would help the O’s win another Series – over the Reds. Didn’t Pappas help them? No, because they made another dumb trade, sending him to the Atlanta Braves early in 1968. At least they got a great reliever, Clay Carroll, in that deal.
The heavyweight champion of the world was Muhammad Ali, who, 6 months earlier, had knocked out former champion Sonny Liston for the 2nd time. However, he was hardly a widely-loved figure – and that would get a lot worse, before it got a lot better.
There were computers, but they weren’t laptops. Or desktops. Or personal. The idea of having a computer in your home was ridiculous. In December 1965, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Tim Berners-Lee were all 10 years old. My mother was working in an office building on Broad Street in Newark at this time, and she told me that, in that building, a computer took up an entire floor. Supposedly, it was around this time that a moth flew into a room with a computer in it and shorted out the circuitry, resulting in the expression “computer bug.” While there is no doubt that something like this happened many times, the term “bug” for a problem with a machine dates back to the 19th Century.
Putting a man on the Moon was still a goal. There were no mobile telephones, unless you count phones in cars and on boats, which had to be connected with land lines via radio operators. San Francisco was a city that embraced a reputation that veered from high sophistication to bohemianism, a home for beatniks and folkies. The term “hippie” still mean “jazz musician.”
In the late fall of 1965, the U.S. Army had its first major engagement of the Vietnam War, the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley. This is followed, 2 weeks later, by the first large-scale antiwar march on Washington. Joseph Mobutu launched a coup in the Congo, eventually changing his name to Mobutu Sese Seko and that of his country to Zaire. And Ferdinand Marcos was elected President of the Philippines.
The Soviet Union launched Venera 3, which would land on Venus the following March, becoming the first Earth spacecraft to land on another planet. France joined America and the Soviets as the 3rd nation to launch a satellite, Asterix-1. Just 3 days later, Canada became the 4th, with Alouette 2. Gemini 6 and Gemini 7 performed the first controlled rendezvous in Earth orbit.
A blackout struck the Northeastern U.S. during the evening rush hour, lasting 13 hours. The New York Police Department claimed it was the lowest crime night since they began keeping records. Man of La Mancha, based on Don Quixote, a role played by Richard Kiley, opened on Broadway. Craig Breedlove became the first man to drive faster than 600 miles per hour.
The Beatles released Rubber Soul. Elvis Presley released… Paradise, Hawaiian Style. Frank Sinatra was no more socially relevant at this point than Elvis, but as he turned 50 (8 days after the Penn State game in question), he was making some of his best music, having just released the album September of My Years, including the Jimmy Van Heusen-Sammy Cahn title track, Kurt Weill’s “September Song,” and Ervin Drake’s “It Was a Very Good Year.”
The Byrds turned Pete Seeger’s scripture-themed song “Turn! Turn! Turn!” into a Number 1 hit. The Four Seasons nearly did so with “Let’s Hang On!” but bass singer and bass guitarist Nick Massi left the group; Frankie Valli, pianist Bob Gaudio and lead guitarist Tommy DeVito would replace him with Joe Long, meaning that, like the Beatles, the Seasons would have a lefty on bass. The first TV special based on the Peanuts comic strip, A Charlie Brown Christmas, first aired. Bob Dylan, having recently left Joan Baez, married Sara Lowndes, who soon gave birth to their son Jakob. And the husband-and-wife comedy team of Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara became the parents of Ben Stiller.
Henry Wallace, and W. Somerset Maugham, and Branch Rickey died. Cris Carter, and Katarina Witt, and Andy Dick were born.
December 4, 1965. Penn State last played a game without Joe Paterno as permanent head coach. Now they are doing so again.
It will be a while before they are a national football power again. But before that happens, they may regain their honor.