When Maryland hosts Penn State at Memorial Stadium Saturday (1:30 p.m.), sometime during the first half quarterback Tony Sacca will become the all-time Nittany Lions passing yardage leader. Sacca's present total reads 5,358 and the record is 5,382, held by Chuck Fusina (1975-78).
Actually, Sacca probably would have the mark in his possession already were it not for a minor screw-up a couple of weeks ago.
Penn State was beating up on West Virginia before a record home crowd of 96,445 when sports information director Budd Thalman noted Sacca was just 8 yards shy of Fusina's total in the late going.
Or so Thalman thought anyway. "Tony had 5,320 and I mistakenly wrote down Fusina's as 5,328, transposing the last two numbers. I ran it over to the coaches [spotting in the press box] and said 'For what it's worth,' pointing out it would be nice if he made the record in front of the home crowd."
Word got down to the bench and coach Joe Paterno dispatched Sacca into the game for the purpose of throwing a short out, thence to receive the plaudits of the crowd and depart. West Virginia, despite being on the short end of a 37-6 score at the time, didn't cooperate and, after a scramble, Sacca ended up firing a 37-yard scoring pass to O.J. McDuffie.
Penn State went on to whip the Mountaineers, 51-6, and passing for a late touchdown didn't sit well with Paterno. "I didn't want that score," he quipped, "and except for the fact we have a West Virginia grad [Thalman] who doesn't count very well, we wouldn't have had it."
"This isn't the first time it has happened to me," admitted Thalman, the SID at Navy when Roger Staubach was leading the Mids and winning the Heisman Trophy. "When I was with the Buffalo Bills, I was down on the field late in a game in Boston when an assistant phoned down that O.J. Simpson needed just 6 yards to set the NFL's all-time single game mark of 256 yards.
"Coach Lou Saban had taken 'Juice' out because we were winning easily, but he sent him back in for a shot at the record. O.J. got 8 yards and the record seemed safe. Then I got another call from upstairs saying that after checking he needed 5 more yards," Thalman said.
"I went to Saban again and he was fit to be tied. He was bellowing, 'OK, I'll send him back in one more time. But if he gets injured I'm going to strangle someone.' Simpson made the necessary yardage and, needless to say, I heard about it from the coach for years afterward."
* Another Penn State player closing in on a milestone is wide receiver Terry Smith, just two catches away from 100 career receptions. Only two other Lions -- Jack Curry (117) and Kenny Jackson (109) -- have reached the century mark. Smith, just 5 feet 8 and 155 pounds, has 647 yards with his 45 catches (14.4 average) this season, and has proven a game-breaker with eight touchdowns.
* Paterno is constantly talking about all the mistakes Penn State makes, but his lads sport a plus 15 in the take-away/give-away battle . . . In addition to leading rusher Richie Anderson (Sandy Spring), other Marylanders on the Penn State squad are linebacker Tyoka Jackson (Forestville), Ricky Rowe (Columbia) and Dave Thomas (Silver Spring).
* Since 1982, Penn State's margins of victory over the Terps have been 8-1-2-2-5-17-0 and 14, with the tie at Memorial Stadium two years ago thrown in. It's why Paterno isn't snowing his players when he says, "They always play us tough."
* In previous visits here, Maryland and Penn State drew crowds of 60,500 and 60,250 . . . The Terps are on State's schedule for two more tries at victory No. 2 (since 1917), then it will be catch-as-catch-can as the Lions go full-time Big Ten.