#9 1982 Penn State-Georgia Sugar Bowl
I always consider an iconic play as one where you remember where you were when you first saw it. When Boston’s Bill Buckner had the ball roll between his legs in the 1986 World Series against the Mets, I remember exactly where I was when I saw it (and I wasn’t a fan of either of those two teams).
This next play certainly fits the bill.
Following the fortunate (depending on your viewpoint) victory against Nebraska, Penn State lost their next time out, on the road at Alabama. I remember that game as well because Penn State had a punt blocked when the up blocker backed up into the kick. When I was a kid, Penn State’s losses devastated me. I used to get sad (and now I just get really mad).
Luckily, Penn State football was a little more resilient than I was and they rebounded quite nicely from that setback in Alabama. They ran the table, beat Pitt for the second year in a row, and with a little luck got back to number #2 in the polls.
Their reward? A match-up against the Georgia Bulldogs and the Heisman Trophy-winning running back, Herschel Walker.
Walker had won the Heisman with a truly historic campaign, rushing for 1752 yards and 16 touchdowns. Unfortunately for Georgia, Walker was their only weapon. Their quarterback, John Lastinger, only completed 41.9% of his passes for 907 yards.
The game started as though it would be a Penn State romp, with the Nittany Lions taking a commanding 20-3 lead with 44 seconds remaining in the first half on a 45-yard Nick Gancitano field goal.
On the ensuing Georgia drive, however, Lastinger hit four of five passes, including a 10-yard TD strike to Herman Archie that cut the lead to 20-10 going into halftime.
The opening drive of the second half saw Georgia march down the field and score on a 1-yard plunge by Walker, which made the score 20-17 Penn State.
Georgia had the ball around mid-field late in the third when Lastinger threw an interception. As the quarter came to an end, Penn State had the ball with a 3-point lead around their own 25.
A couple of Curt Warner runs set Penn State up with a fresh set of markers at the Georgia 48-yard line. What happened next is the stuff of legend.
In the immortal words of the late Keith Jackson, “He’s going for the bundle“.
This Gregg Garrity touchdown gave the Lions a 27-17 lead in the fourth. A late Lastinger touchdown cut the deficit to 27-23, but Penn State would hold on to win their first undisputed National Championship.
It’s sometimes difficult to realize, but this Penn State squad was ahead of its time, the first team to win the National Championship averaging more yards passing a game than rushing.