University Park, Pa. — The Nittany Lions’ 1986 National Championship football team, one of the most outstanding squads in Penn State’s storied gridiron history, will be reunited at the Oct. 8 Big Ten home opener against Iowa in Beaver Stadium.
The 1986 Nittany Lions recorded an unblemished 12-0 record after defeating No. 1 Miami (Fla.) in a thrilling title clash en route to their second national championship in four years under Coach Joe Paterno. The 2011 season marks the 25th anniversary of Penn State’s memorable championship run.
The 1986 season was capped by Penn State’s epic 14-10, down to the wire victory over Miami in the Fiesta Bowl. In the "Duel in the Desert" on January 2, 1987 in Tempe, Ariz., the Nittany Lions picked off Hurricanes’ quarterback Vinny Testaverde five times to help secure the victory. The final interception of the night was hauled in by linebacker Pete Giftopoulos inside the Penn State five-yard line as Testaverde took one last shot at the end zone on fourth and goal. Giftopoulos ran the ball out the 10-yard line before falling to the ground with nine seconds left, securing the pulsating victory.
More than 70 million people watched the thrilling prime-time telecast on NBC, breaking the previous record for a college football telecast.
The 1986 Nittany Lions are one of five Paterno-led teams that finished the season unbeaten, joining the 1968 (11-0), 1969 (11-0), 1973 (12-0) and 1994 (12-0) squads. The 1986 season also was highlighted by a Nittany Lion defense that that held nine opponents to 15 points or less, while also winning four games by six points or fewer. On Sept. 6, the Nittany Lions played the first night game at Beaver Stadium in the season opener against Temple. That year, Penn State finished the regular season by beating Maryland (17-15), Notre Dame (24-19) and Pitt (34-14). The Lions also defeated No. 2 Alabama, 23-3, just the third loss by the Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium in 25 years.
The 1986 team produced many Penn State household names, including team captains, Shane Conlan, John Shaffer, Steve Smith and Bob White. The team also produced four All-Americans, as linebacker Conlan, tackle Chris Conlin, running back D.J. Dozier and defensive tackle Tim Johnson all were honored.
Conlan received his second first-team All-America selection in 1986, just the sixth Nittany Lion so honored at the time. He led the team in tackles during the National Championship season with 79; 67 of which were solo stops. He intercepted Testaverde twice in the title clash, and his return of a fourth quarter pick to the Hurricanes’ five-yard line set up Dozier’s game-winning touchdown.
Dozier’s unforgettable six-yard touchdown run in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl gave the Nittany Lions the lead en route to their second title of the decade. With his spectacular senior season, Dozier became the first Penn State back to lead the team in rushing four consecutive seasons. He accumulated 811 yards on 171 carries his senior season. He finished in the top 10 in Heisman Trophy voting A program record 13 Nittany Lions were selected in the 1987 NFL Draft, led by first round picks Conlan (Buffalo) and Dozier (Minnesota).
The Nittany Lions return 41 letterwinners and 15 starters for the 2011 season, (7 offense, 7 defense, 1 specialist), as well as 17 players that have starting experience.
Since the start of the 2005 season, Penn State has earned a 58-19 record, with its 75.3 winning percentage among the top 10 percent in the nation. Over the past six years the Nittany Lions have won two Big Ten Championships, won four bowl games and played in five New Year’s or Bowl Championship Series (BCS) games, the nation’s third-highest total.
Season tickets are available for the 2011 season. The Nittany Lions will face four teams that played in a bowl games last year at home. Among the teams coming to Beaver Stadium this fall are: Alabama (Sept. 10, 3:30 p.m.), Iowa, Purdue (Oct. 15, noon), Illinois (Oct. 29) and Nebraska (Nov. 12). All Penn State fans are encouraged to wear white to the Crimson Tide’s first visit to Happy Valley since 1989.
For information on joining the Nittany Lion Club and purchasing season tickets, as well as club seating in Beaver Stadium, fans can call 1-800-648-8269 (1-800-NITTANY).