Even Terps' lone Penn State win turned into loss

November 06, 1991|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Evening Sun Staff

COLLEGE PARK -- Oh, yes, Tom Nugent said, one last thing. Call it the final irony of Maryland's 1961 season.

That was the year that Maryland beat Penn State for the first and only time in a rivalry that stretches back to 1917. The Nittany Lions have a 32-1-1 stranglehold on the Terps as they prepare for their Memorial Stadium visit Saturday. Since losing that game 30 years ago, Penn State has beaten Maryland 25 times, tying once.

In 1961, spurred by the upset win over Penn State, the Terps approached their final game, against Virginia, with a 7-2 record. All they needed to cement their date with Georgia Tech in the Gator Bowl was a victory over Virginia, which they had crushed the year before 44-12.

"Actually, our game with Georgia Tech in the Gator Bowl was all set," said Nugent, now 78 and living in retirement in Indian Harbor Beach, Fla. "But Wilson Elkins, Maryland's president, didn't like bowl games and said we couldn't go unless we won eight games.

"But it seemed certain we'd beat Virginia for our eighth win. No contest, or so we thought. Virginia beat us, and guess who went to the Gator Bowl in our place? Penn State, and they beat Georgia Tech."

Of Nugent's seven seasons at Maryland, 1961 was his finest. But it is remembered not so much for the 7-3 record but for the triumph over Penn State.

The Terps went into the game with a 4-2 record that included wins over No. 7 Syracuse and Clemson. But as Nugent recalls, Penn State was favored, although it too was 4-2.

"We had a lot of boys from Pennsylvania on the team, 19 I think, and they were sky high," Nugent said. "One was Dick Shiner, a sophomore quarterback. I started him that day for the first time."

Ten years before, when he was at Virginia Military Institute, Nugent had invented the I formation. By the time he arrived at Maryland, it was known as the "shifty I," because the team shifted into so many sets to confuse opponents.

Joe Paterno, then a Penn State assistant coach under Rip Engle, had scouted Maryland thoroughly, but the Nittany Lions still were bewildered by Nugent's offense. Before a crowd of 34,000 at Byrd Stadium on Nov. 4, Shiner threw scoring passes to Dick Barland, Tom Brown and Gary Collins to give Maryland a 21-6 halftime lead.

"Penn State didn't adjust to our wrinkles," Nugent said. "In the second half we held on to win [21-17]."

Nugent came to Maryland in 1959 from Florida State -- where he coached, among others, Burt Reynolds -- at the urging of Elkins and Terps athletic director Bill Cobey. They heard that Howard Cosell, doing his first network TV game, raved about Nugent in Florida State's loss to Oklahoma State in the Blue Grass Bowl.

"Howard made me sound like coach of the year," Nugent said.

He was making $14,000 as Florida State's football coach and athletic director. Maryland, which had just fired Tommy Mont, kept sweetening the pot, throwing in TV shows in Baltimore and Washington and promising the Nugents a converted sorority house in which to live, until the package reached 2 1/2 times his Florida State salary.

Nugent turned it down. Then Elkins offered free college educations for the Nugents' children, little realizing they had nine.

That sold Nugent, and he signed a seven-year contract. He left Maryland after it expired in 1965 with a 36-34 record and at odds with the Terrapin Club, which was unhappy that he was bringing in black players.

"I never got around to resigning," Nugent said. "They beat me to it and didn't renew my contract."

During the next 15 years, Nugent was first an assistant director of the Orange Bowl, then sports director of a Miami TV channel and an ABC-TV commentator, vice president of a mobile homes company and public relations director at Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne. He retired 11 years ago.

"I always wished I had coached a few years longer," Nugent said. "I had a chance to go to Holy Cross at one point, but Peg and I liked Florida and decided it would be too cold up there."

Nugent coached his last game Dec. 4, 1965. Before a Byrd Stadium crowd of 24,000, the Terps lost, 19-7. The opponent was Penn State.

Terps bid farewell to Memorial Stadium

COLLEGE PARK -- The Maryland-Penn State game Saturday at Memorial Stadium probably will be the Terps' last in Baltimore in the foreseeable future. There are no more Maryland games scheduled there.

"I say probably in part because we don't know the future of Memorial Stadium," said Maryland athletic director Andy Geiger.

Starting in 1984, Maryland has played Clemson three times at Memorial Stadium, Penn State twice and Miami once. The games were the Terps' biggest draws. The Terps will play Clemson next year at Byrd Stadium and Penn State there in 1993.

"Taking our best Atlantic Coast Conference game [usually against Clemson] to Baltimore is a mistake," Geiger said. "We're pouring millions into the renovation of Byrd Stadium and I hope that continues. The focus is on the campus, as college football should be."

The Maryland-Penn State rivalry will stop, at least for the time being, after the 1993 meeting. The Terps will play at Penn State next year, then entertain the Nittany Lions at Byrd in 1993.

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