The Storied History between Penn State and Alabama

Story posted September 8, 2011 in CommRadio, Sports by Eric Feldman

In the 125-year history of Penn State Football, it seems that each year has brought a newfound excitement. The Big Ten matchups every week provide hard-hitting, tough competition for the Nittany Lions. However, there is one team that has always made the season extra special for the Nittany Lions: the Alabama Crimson Tide.

The history of the Alabama vs. Penn State rivalry goes back 36 years. It started in 1975, when Joe Paterno faced off against legendary Alabama head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. This would be the first of four meetings between the two renowned coaches.

The first meeting between the two historic universities took place in the Sugar Bowl. The Crimson Tide would defeat the Nittany Lions 13-6 in a low scoring affair. Alabama would use this victory as a stepping-stone for the games against Penn State in the future.

Four years later, Alabama and Penn State faced off again in the Sugar Bowl, however, this time there was more at stake: a national championship. Bear Bryant was trying to win his sixth national title, while the Nittany Lions were hoping to win their first.

In another close battle, the Crimson Tide defeated the Nittany Lions 14-7. Bear Bryant’s coaching strategy stifled Paterno again as he was still searching for his first win against Bryant.

Three years later, in 1982, it looked like Penn State’s year to go undefeated and win the national championship.  The one roadblock was Alabama as it was very tough to beat them in their home stadium. The Crimson Tide squashed the Nittany Lions in a 42-21 blowout.

Luckily for Penn State, this was the only misstep on the way to their first championship. They would go on to win their final six games on their way to winning the national championship.

1982 would mark the final year of Bear Bryant’s career as Alabama head coach, finishing with a 4-0 record against Penn State and Joe Paterno. The following year of 1983 would be the first time that Paterno would manage to beat Alabama.

The 1983 victory over Alabama was the highlight of that post-championship year, as the Penn State offense controlled the game to win 34-28. This would be the beginning of the Nittany Lions’ short streak of success against the Crimson Tide, as they would win two out of the next three contests against Alabama.

The final of those wins came in the Nittany Lions’ second national title season of 1986. The Penn State-Alabama championship pitted two undefeated teams against each other in the season’s biggest game. Paterno’s defensive strategy paid off, as the Nittany Lions shut down Alabama on their way to a 23-3 victory. At the time, it was the worst home loss for Alabama in the previous ten years.

In the final meeting of the two teams for a 20-year period, the Nittany Lions were getting trashed in the media prior to the 1990 matchup and had a statement to make. Penn State came out motivated and won the defensive battle 9-0.

After the 20-year break, the Nittany Lions traveled to Alabama last season to take on the defending national champions. With most of their stars returning to school, the Crimson Tide took advantage of the inexperienced play of Penn State’s then freshman quarterback Rob Bolden to win at home 24-3.

Penn State is 4-9 overall against Alabama in the Joe Paterno era. This year’s matchup is the first time the Tide will roll into Beaver Stadium since 1989.  With a White Out at Beaver Stadium this Saturday, the next chapter in this storied history is sure to be written.

Eric Feldman is a sophomore majoring in Broadcast Journalism. To contact him, email