Penn State has had a long and illustrious football history, but because of its decision to remain outside of a conference framework for most of its gridiron existence, it seldom was invited to the mostly conference-based bowl games.
In fact, up through 1959 the Nittany Lions had played in but two of these postseason festivals, losing the 1923 Rose Bowl and tying Southern Methodist in the 1948 Cotton Bowl. So when promoter Bud Dudley invited them to face Alabama’s Crimson Tide in the first annual Liberty Bowl, coach Rip Engle jumped at the opportunity.
Unlike many recent Alabama teams, Bear Bryant’s first Tuscaloosa bowl entry was a bit on the lightweight side. It’s hard to imagine a 169-pound fullback or a 188-pound tackle staring across the line at Georgia or LSU in 2012, but that was how Bama’s Tom White and Gary Phillips tipped the scales. Though the Tide must have been doing something right, because those bantam roosters managed to hold their opponents to just five points a game over the course of the season.
And a tough bunch of birds those Bama defenders proved to be, stopping the Lions cold on the Alabama 11-, 1-, and 5-yard lines without a single consolation point. And despite outgaining the Tide by a nearly 3 to 1 margin, it looked as if Engle’s men were never going to have to wait until 1960 to score.
But then with 40 seconds to go in the first half, the Lions got all the offense they needed. After running back a short punt to the Alabama 23, a quick 5 yard run took them to the 18, where after a no-huddle pause for breath, Sam Stellatella lined up for a field goal.
Only instead of going for the 3 points, quarterback Galen Hall took the snap and fired a quick 23 yard touchdown pass to Roger Kochmann, and with but five seconds remaining on the clock, the stunned Crimson Tide found themselves in a 7-0 hole that they were unable to climb out of for the rest of the afternoon.
The Nittany Lions have since gone on to several national championships and countless bowl victories, but in many ways, that first one was the sweetest.
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