Although he would never admit it, this was the way Paul William Bryant wanted it. Today, The Bear tied Amos Alonzo Stagg as the winningest college football coach of all time because his Alabama team put together an inspired, near-perfect performance, embarrassing Penn State, 31-16.
Many in the record crowd of 85,133 in Beaver Stadium were already beginning their drives home when Bryant's 314th victory in 37 years of coaching was complete. Those who remained stood to applaud the feat.
Penn State (7-2) came into the game ranked fifth and looking to solidify its position with the Cotton Bowl. Alabama (8-1-1) was ranked sixth and needed a victory to get back into the major bowl picture.
"We thought about the 314 some during the week, but we knew the record would take care of itself eventually," said defensive end Russ Wood, the key man on two fourth-down plays. "What we were concerned about was getting back into the national title picture."
From the beginning, Alabama was the superior team, particularly the Tide's young offensive line. Alabama opened a 24-3 lead at the half, using its passing game for 334 yards total offense.
Then the defense did the rest, putting together a goal-line stand in the third quarter, stopping Penn State on seven straight plays from inside the four. If the first half had not settled the outcome, that did.
Alabama has run the wishbone for 12 seasons, and the pass has rarely been a factor. But this week, after watching Miami hurt the Penn State secondary two weeks ago, Offensive Coordinator Mal Moore worked on the pass almost constantly.
"I can't ever remember us working the pass that much in practice," said sophomore wide receiver Joey Jones. "But even then I didn't get too excited because every week they say we're going to pass more and then we don't."
But today, after the first two series on offense, Jones said he told Moore, "I'm being covered man-to-man and the cornerback (Paul Lankford) is taking my move to the outside."
Moore then did two things. First, he inserted sophomore quarterback Walter Lewis in place of starter Alan Gray. Then, he called Jones' number -- deep.
Lewis came into the game after the Tide defense had come up with its first big plays of the game. The Lions had driven from their 20 to the Alabama 34 and had fourth and two. Quarterback Todd Blackledge, who had a miserable day (eight of 28 for 94 yards and three interceptions), tried to flip wide to Mike McCloskey. But Wood forced him to throw high with a good rush and Mike Pitts knocked the ball down before it got anywhere close to McClosky.
On came Lewis and the offense. On third and 10 at the 34, Lewis made a gorgeous option fake, dropped and found Jones for 31 yards to the 35. Four plays and a clip later, facing second and 23 at the 37, split end Jess Bendross got behind Roger Jackson on a post pattern. Lewis's throw was a little short, but as he turned, Jackson slipped. Bendross easily made the catch and, with 2:16 left in the first quarter, it was 7-0, Alabama.
The Lions had a brief moment of hope early in the second quarter when fullback Ricky Moore fumbled at his own 34 and Dave Opfar recovered for Penn State. The Lions moved from there to a first down at the five, but here, Alabama began to bring back memories of its 14-7 victory in the Sugar Bowl for the 1978 national championship.
Warner got one, then lost three. Forced to pass, Blackledge was sacked by Wood. The Lions settled for a field goal by Brian Franco from 35 yards, making it 7-3. That was as close as they got.
On their next series, fullback Mike Meade fumbled at the 19. Robbie Jones recovered for Alabama and the Tide rolled right in, Paul Carruth scoring from the two on a pitch to make it 14-3 with 5:53 left until halftime.
That was too much time for Penn State. Its offense sputtered again, punted and on first down from the 36, Lewis and Jones went back to work. They connected on a 57-yard play to the Penn State seven. This time two penalties stalled Alabama so Paul Trodd came on to make it 17-3 with a 27-yard field goal with 1:58 left in the first half.
On Penn State's first play after the kickoff, Blackledge was intercepted by Alabama cornerback Jeremiah Castille and the Tide had the ball at its own 42. This time, it took nine plays to get the score.
On the last, Lewis scrambled and found Bendross, one yard into the end zone and one foot inbounds, for a three-yard score and a 24-3 lead with eight seconds left in the half.
"We just did a lousy job of coaching today," said Paterno, now 0-3 against Bryant. "We lost the game in the first half and that's my fault."
Paterno also took the blame for Alabama's goal-line stand on the opening series of the second half. The Lions took the kickoff and swiftly moved to a first down at the Alabama four.
Warner got two yards on two plays, then Benny Perrin was called for pass interference in the end zone on third down. From the one, the Lions tried four times. All told, they lost a yard. Meade, Warner, Meade and finally Warner were all turned back.
The rest was mere formality. Penn State finally got across the goal line when backup tailback Jon Williams went 41 yards to make it 24-10 with 13:49 left. But on their next series, after moving to the Alabama 19, the Lions were again stopped on fourth down, Perrin getting revenge by knocking the ball loose from Kenny Jackson as he tried to catch the ball at the 10.
And so, Bryant, 68, had his historic victory (he has 80 losses and 17 ties) and senior middle guard Warren Lyles, had the honor of presenting him with the game ball in the euphoric locker room. "I felt like a man who had been poor all his life and suddenly found a million dollars, only double it," Lyles said.