Pittman knows all about unrewarded perfection

January 01, 1995|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun Staff Writer

COSTA MESA, Calif. -- No Penn State player is better prepared for the prospect that the Nittany Lions could handle Oregon in the Rose Bowl, go 12-0 and remain No. 2 in the polls than Tony Pittman.

"Maybe this will be the first time that two generations go through this same thing," Pittman said. "Going unbeaten and being No. 2 is something I know all about from my dad."

Actually, four current Nittany Lions have fathers who played on Penn State's unbeaten teams of 1968 and '69 that didn't finish No. 1, but Charlie Pittman then and Tony Pittman now are the most heralded from both generations.

Charlie, who played for Edmondson High in West Baltimore, led both the 1968 and '69 teams in rushing and left Happy Valley as the No. 2 career rusher, only 144 yards behind 1950s hero Lenny Moore. Tony is a senior cornerback and a GTE Academic All-American with a 3.57 cumulative grade-point average in industrial engineering, but he's also a bit of a history buff.

"Without dwelling on it, I think I have a much deeper appreciation than most of my teammates for what Penn State and Joe Paterno are all about," Pittman said. "My father has his teams on film and video, and it was kind of a tradition in our house to watch them every year. My father was always talking about Lydell Mitchell and Franco Harris, and they were almost like uncles growing up."

Through example, Pittman has learned that a No. 2 ranking wouldn't diminish the way he feels about Penn State's dominance this season.

"It's hard to believe my father's teams never won a national championship, but it's interesting to see how they approach that," Pittman said. "Whenever the players from his era get together, you would think that they would gripe about it, but that's not the case. They only talk about the good times."

A second-team all-Big Ten selection, Pittman has been one of the more consistent players on a defense that, for a change, hasn't given Penn State much to cheer about. While the offense improved the league scoring record to 47.8 points per game, the defense allowed 21.1, the second-worst mark in Nittany Lions history.

"I've never gone into any big game thinking our offense was going to win it, and that's the way I'm approaching this one," Paterno said. "I like to think that we'll be better defensively than we have all year. We better be, or we're in trouble."

Pittman, Penn State's smallest starter at 5 feet 8 and 171 pounds, was one of several Nittany Lion veterans who emerged as regulars last year, when he was named the team's most improved defensive player. This year he has 22 tackles and 17 assists, and got his seventh career interception against Iowa.

While several of his teammates are looking forward to careers in the NFL, Pittman is deciding where to use the post-graduate scholarship he recently received from the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame. Only 15 grants were awarded.

Pittman will do graduate work at either Columbia, Penn or Penn State, and he won't quickly discount State College. Coming out of Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., he considered the Ivy League before following his father's footsteps.

Charlie Pittman is an advertising executive with the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, but the Pittmans lived in Erie, Pa., when Tony and most of his teammates had one of their biggest Penn State memories as fans.

It was eight years ago tomorrow when Kerry Collins was in West Lawn, Kyle Brady was in New Cumberland and Tony Pittman was in Erie, junior high kids who cheered Penn State past hated Miami in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl and onto its second national championship.

Tonight, all of those grown-up Nittany Lions will hole up in hotel rooms and do the unthinkable, root for Miami to beat Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, an outcome that would open the door for another Penn State national championship.

"Whenever I think of Penn State history, that's the one game I think about," Pittman said. "Probably our biggest win ever came against them in the Fiesta Bowl, so it's ironic that we're going to be rooting for Miami."

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