It was a game played under circumstances unlike any other in the history of Penn State — and arguably in the history of college football.
When Nebraska faced Penn State at Beaver Stadium on Nov. 12, 2011, it was supposed to have been a celebration of the first conference meeting between two tradition-rich powerhouses that had shared a history. It was supposed to be a meeting of top-20 teams. It was supposed to be a game with Big Ten division title implications on the line.
It ended up being a game that was almost never played. But it was played under a specter that few who were there will ever forget.
The details of which do not need to be delved into yet again. But seven days after Jerry Sandusky was indicted and three days after Joe Paterno was fired, what was a pretty good 8-1, No. 12-ranked Penn State team played No. 19 Nebraska (7-2). The Cornhuskers won, 17-14, in Tom Bradley’s debut as interim coach, but that seemed almost secondary to the those who took in the eerie scene. It was a heart-wrenching week in State College (and across all of Penn State nation as well as the country at large).
A few of the people who were there in 2011 were asked this week to recall their memories of that most recent home game against Nebraska.
PSU senior safety Malcolm Willis:
“I just remember the pregame prayer. That is really the only thing I remember from the pregame. But the main thing I remember from playing Nebraska we haven’t won a game in the last two years that I’ve played. So we need to, like I said, have a good week of practice and come out on Saturday ready to go.”
PSU senior fullback Pat Zerbe, referencing Nebraska and the pregame prayer and moment of silence:
“ It was a pretty incredible situation by them and their team to come out there and perform that right before the game. They’re top class guys, and we respect them very much.”
PSU senior linebacker Glenn Carson:
“It definitely was (an emotional time). We’d obviously gone through a lot in that game, and there were a lot of distractions going on at that point. But we are just looking forward to this game without really thinking a lot about previous years.”
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini (told to reporters at his weekly press conference, courtesy of the Philadelphia Inquirer):
“Obviously, that was a crazy and unfortunate situation. No one wants to be a part of something like that. It was a crazy week for us but I can’t imagine what they went through that week. I think that’s one of the powers of sport. You saw two different schools and teams come together and fan bases that came to understand that day what the big picture was, that there was a much bigger picture than a football game. I think everyone was able to put it aside for a couple of hours and come together, which I thought was pretty special – not just the prayer beforehand but the whole football game. . . . There were a lot of people – the kids, the players, the coaches – who were obviously in a very unfortunate situation that really they had nothing to do with.”
Nebraska senior offensive tackle Brent Qvale:
“It was just different. All the things that had come out, it was on all the fans’ minds. You want to say that it didn’t affect the players, but I think it affected the players. But [the scandal] is in their past and they’ve moved on from it.”