This year’s Penn State team is off to a good start.
It has a long way to go, however, to get to the ultimate goal of winning a national championship.
Only two teams in Penn State history have accomplished that feat, and members of one of them will be honored at halftime of Saturday’s game against Central Michigan.
There likely will be former players in attendance who will only be in Beaver Stadium once this fall, which means that guys such as fifth-year offensive lineman Bryce Effner will have one chance to show off their skills for the 1982 team in person.
So what does the 2022 team want the 1982 team to see Saturday?
“I want them to see just how much passion we have,” Effner said.
The names and faces are different, but Effner doesn’t feel that this year’s Nittany Lions are a “new team.”
“We’re all wearing the same numbers,” Effner said. “We have a plaque in our locker room. I don’t want to butcher it, but basically, it just says, the number on your back is yours now, but 20 years from now, even five years from now, that number will be on somebody else’s back, and it’s a legacy you carry on.”
Effner isn’t a star at Penn State, but he gets a good bit of playing time and is a veteran depth piece that every championship team needs.
Running back Devyn Ford hasn’t been in the program for as long as Effner. Still, Ford is the elder statesman of Penn State’s running backs room in his fourth season.
Ford has never been a star at Penn State, and neither was Joel Coles.
Overshadowed by Penn State legend Curt Warner, Coles— a fifth-year senior in 1982 the way Effner is this season— isn’t a name that many Penn State fans who didn’t watch the ’82 team play remember.
But his impassioned speech after the team’s lone loss to Alabama was credited by coach Joe Paterno as a big part of what turned the season around.
Ford, too, could have a big moment, whether it’s on the field or behind the scenes.
As far as Saturday is concerned, Ford wants Penn State fans to see the “blue-collar” football team that the school is known to be.
“Mostly, I want them to see the honor, the respect for the opponent, as well as the way we played,” Ford said. “The great work that we did, the ferocity that we played with, and excitement and attitude. That’s what Penn State brings.”
In a championship season, there are always plays that people point to afterward as crucial.
The 1982 team had a number of them, perhaps the most famous regular-season example being Kirk Bowman’s walk-off touchdown catch against Nebraska.
Zakee Wheatley has already made two plays for Penn State that Penn State fans could remember beyond this season if it wins the Big Ten or joins the 1982 team as national champions.
Against Purdue in the season opener, with Penn State leading 14-10 late in the first half, Wheatley forced a fumble with the Boilermakers driving into Penn State’s red zone.
Penn State then got the ball back with 30 seconds left and scored a touchdown on a 67-yard pass from Sean Clifford to Brenton Strange.
Wheatley’s turnover could have amounted to a 14-point swing, and Penn State won by four.
Two weeks later, at Auburn, Penn State led 7-3 late in the first quarter.
The Tigers drove to Penn State’s 28, and on the last play of the first quarter, Wheatley intercepted a pass with an assist by fellow second-year safety Jaylen Reed.
This Saturday, Wheatley wants the boys of ’82 to see a “tough,” “aggressive” and “fast” team.
“I want them to see that,” Wheatley said, “regardless of what happens on the field, we’re going out there every play, and we’re giving it our all.”
The ’82 team will have fun at Beaver Stadium whether Penn State dominates Central Michigan or gets upset.
” You step into Beaver Stadium,” Ford said. “You’re gonna have a great time.”
But the day will be better for the ’82 team and especially the ’22 team if Penn State takes care of business.
“We sacrifice with the work we put in all week,” Wheatley said, “and we want them to see people flying around, having fun — a great football team that loves to win.”
“When the 1982 team comes in to watch us play,” Effner said, “I just hope that they see how much passion and love we have for the game, and that takes them back to when they were playing.”