Two weekends ago, the Penn State Nittany Lions traveled to Ann Arbor, Mich., to take on the Michigan Wolverines in a Saturday night showdown at the Big House.
After watching every snap of a disgusting 18-13 victory for the home team, I contemplated writing about how this season’s Penn State-Michigan game was the worst college football game you’ll see all year. It was two bad teams that are both poorly coached playing awful football in a poorly played and even more poorly coached football game, the Wolverines winning 18-13.
I didn’t end up writing the post because I realized I had nothing more to say than that — two historic football programs playing some of the most dreadful football you can imagine. It was the worst football game I watched in a long, long time — a decade in fact. But as bad as that pathetic loss to an embarrassingly awful Michigan team was two weeks ago, it has nothing on the game I attended at Happy Valley 10 years ago yesterday.
Truth be told, I had no idea that yesterday was the 10th anniversary of the worst college football game of the 21st century and perhaps the 20th century as well until a friend and former college roommate of mine alerted me. He passed along an article from The Patriot News columnist David Jones — perhaps the most knowledgeable sportswriter around when it comes to Penn State — with the headline, “On 10th anniversary of epic 6-4 Iowa-PSU taffy pull, is such a game even possible today?”
While I blocked out the date, the game itself is seared into my memory forever. It was the fall semester of my junior year at Penn State, and the program was on a bit of a roller coaster. Entering the new millennium, the storied Penn State program had back-to-back losing seasons for the first time in my lifetime, with a 5-7 record in 2000 and 5-6 record in 2001.
When I was accepted to Penn State and began my classes in the fall of 2002 in State College, I had no idea what to expect from the football team I had grown up following. All that happened was a 9-4 record, a 2,000-yard campaign from Larry Johnson and a really, really fun freshman season, highlighted by a 40-7 rout against Nebraska as a sort of de facto revenge game for the 1994 undefeated squad that got flat-out robbed of a national title in favor of the Cornhuskers.
My sophomore season was not nearly as fun. The Nittany Lions were back to their losing ways, finishing with a 3-9 record in the worst season of the Joe Paterno era. The outlook wasn’t any better heading into my junior year, as the debacle continued. Yet even coming off a three-win season and a 2-4 start to the 2004 campaign, nothing could prepare me for what took place on Oct. 23, 2004, in Beaver Stadium.
Don’t get me wrong — I wasn’t expecting anything positive to happen for the Nittany Lions on that fall Saturday, particularly against an Iowa Hawkeyes squad that always seemed to be a thorn in the side of my school. But I never imagined a Joe Paterno-coached team could be so inept. But it’s not as if Iowa was much better.
As Jones laid out in his article, the two teams combined for just 400 total yards of offense. Touchdowns were out of the question. For the most part, so were field goals.
Twice, Penn State had the ball inside the Iowa 10, and twice the home team came away with no points. One of those times, the Nittany Lions lined up for a 25-yard field goal. I remember the exact words from my friend and roommate Nate that exact moment: “If he misses this, I’m walking out.” I joined him in his sentiments.
The “he” was referring to was Robbie Gould, current Pro Bowl kicker with the Chicago Bears. Gould, of course, missed — however, neither Nate nor I nor anyone else we were with actually could leave. It was like watching a train wreck — a train wreck that led to my complete and utter disdain for Gould.
Gould was so bad that year and during his entire tenure at Penn State — just 3-for-8 on the season to that point — that with nearly the whole fourth quarter remaining in the game and the Hawkeyes holding a 6-2 lead — Penn State scored on a safety when a punt went over the Iowa punter’s head — Iowa took another safety on purpose. The Hawkeyes knew that there was no way Penn State could score, because the pathetic offense certainly couldn’t get in the end zone and Gould was so atrocious he couldn’t even convert a 25-yarder.
These days, Gould is the third most accurate kicker in NFL history, doing it all in Chicago of all places, perhaps the windiest city in America. His prominence at the highest level of football has only made my hatred grow even more, so much so that Gould’s agent decided to send me a cease and desist letter for detailing just how much I hate his client.
It all started on that fateful Saturday some 10 years ago. It was the worst football game I ever attended, the worst football game I’ve ever watched, and most definitely the worst offensive performance I’ll ever see in my life.
This year’s loss versus Michigan brought similar feelings, and while it was so painful that I wanted to stop watching, it really couldn’t hold a candle to what took place in Beaver Stadium a decade ago. Iowa 6, Penn State 4. Two missed field goals, one from 25 yards out, from a kicker who went on to NFL stardom. A dreadful loss that aided a 4-7 campaign. It was, arguably, the worst college football game ever played, and inarguably the worst football game of my entire life.
I’m not exactly sure what we did after the game. More than likely, we stocked up on double cheeseburgers and McChickens at McDonald’s, ate ourselves full and drank until we couldn’t feel anymore. It was almost surreal, such utter ineptitude that it was almost amazing in a way.
Thankfully, the following season, led by Paul Posluszny, Michael Robinson, Tamba Hali, Tony Hunt, Derrick Williams and Dan Connor, Penn State would go on to win the Big Ten in my senior season, capping it off with an 11-1 record and an Orange Bowl victory. Without that, I’m not sure how I would have coped with Iowa 6, Penn State 4 standing as the defining game of my college career.
That would not be the case, thank the heavens, as Tamba Hali blowing up Troy Smith in Beaver Stadium will forever be the most memorable moment of my four years in State College.
But Iowa 6, Penn State 4 is a close second, a game that goes down in the annals of Penn State (and Iowa) history for all the wrong reasons. I can’t believe it’s already been 10 years. And I’m certain we won’t see another game like it for another 10 — and hopefully another 100 or more. Because that was the worst college football game ever.
Oh, and in case the Google Alerts go off for his agent again, fuck Robbie Gould forever. I still hate that guy.