The History of Penn State Football in the Super Bowl
When the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots take the field in Glendale, Ariz. this Sunday to kick off Super Bowl XLIX, Penn State will be represented on the field for the 44th time in the game’s 49-game history.
The only five Super Bowls to be played without a Nittany Lion on either sideline? Super Bowl IV (1970), VI (1972), XXIV (1990), XXXIII (1999), and XLIV (2010).
Seattle’s Gary Gilliam and Jordan Hill, both standout prep players from Central Pennsylvania, will carry the torch of a rich history of success by Nittany Lions in professional football’s premier event. Hill, a Super Bowl champion in his rookie year with the Seahawks, burst onto the scene at the end of the season, recording 13 tackles and 5.5 sacks in the final six games before suffering a season-ending injury. Gilliam — previously an anonymous contributor on the offensive line — became a household name during championship weekend, as the former tight end caught a 19-yard touchdown pass from punter Jon Ryan that ignited Seattle’s heroic comeback win in the NFC Championship Game over Green Bay in overtime.
All told, Penn State’s success in what’s now become the most-watched American television event is staggering. Thirty-seven former Nittany Lions have earned a total of 54 Super Bowl rings, with since-retired fullback and 2005 Orange Bowl champion Michael Robinson earning one alongside Hill last year with Seattle.
Since the inaugural championship game in 1967 between the NFL’s Green Bay Packers and AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, a total of 105 Nittany Lions have been on Super Bowl rosters.
Without further ado, let’s take a look back on the notable achievements of a few Nittany Lions on professional football’s biggest stage.
Super Bowl I
Dave Robinson (Green Bay Packers), Harrison “Hatch” Rosdahl (Kansas City Chiefs)
In the first-ever matchup between the NFL and AFL champions, the Green Bay Packers faced off against the Kansas City Chiefs in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, Calif. Dave Robinson, an All-American lineman at Penn State, was playing in his third year with the Packers after being drafted in the first round of the 1963 NFL Draft.
Starring for Vince Lombardi’s squad, Robinson forced Chiefs’ quarterback Len Dawson into throwing the first interception of the game, which was returned by Willie Wood for 50 yards to put the Packers in scoring position. Green Bay would prevail 35-10, and Robinson would go on to win his second ring the following year, as the Packers beat the Raiders in Super Bowl II. In 2013, Robinson was enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame.
Super Bowl IX
Franco Harris, Jack Ham (Pittsburgh Steelers)
As part of a fearsome Steelers squad that would capture four Super Bowl titles in six seasons, Harris and Ham represent two of Penn State’s six NFL Hall of Famers, alongside Robinson, Mike Michalske, Lenny Moore, and Mike Munchak.
In the 1975 Super Bowl between the Steelers and Minnesota Vikings, Harris became Penn State’s first and only Super Bowl MVP, rushing for 158 yards on 34 carries with a touchdown during Pittsburgh’s 16-6 win. The total stands as the Super Bowl record for most rushing yards by a fullback.
Super Bowl X
Franco Harris, Jack Ham (Pittsburgh Steelers)
The duo returned to defend the Steelers’ title in 1976, matching up with Roger Staubach and the Dallas Cowboys in the Orange Bowl.
Coming off a season where he rushed for over 1,100 yards and a league-leading 14 touchdowns, Harris shined on the brightest stage yet again, posting 82 rushing yards and 27 receiving yards. Ham held up his end of the bargain on defense, amassing five tackles and assisting on five more.
In a game best remembered for Lynn Swann’s incredible 164-yard performance, the Steelers captured their second straight championship, prevailing 21-17.
Super Bowl XIV
Franco Harris, Jack Ham, Matt Bahr (Pittsburgh Steelers)
After failing to reach the title game for three straight seasons, Harris and Ham returned to grab the Super Bowl crown in 1979 and went on to seek their fourth title of the decade in 1980 against the Los Angeles Rams. This time, they were joined by All-American kicker Matt Bahr.
The Nittany Lion pair of Harris and Bahr proved crucial on the game’s first score, as Bahr connected on a 41-yard field goal, set up by a 32-yard pass from Terry Bradshaw to Franco Harris. Harris continued his impressive run of Super Bowl success, scoring two touchdowns in the Steelers’ 31-17 victory.
Super Bowl XV
Chris Bahr, Matt Millen (Oakland Raiders), Bob Torrey (IRL) (Philadelphia Eagles)
In 1981, the Raiders and Eagles met in the Superdome in New Orleans with rookie linebacker Matt Millen and placekicker Chris Bahr representing Oakland against running back Bob Torrey and Philadelphia.
In the first-ever Super Bowl matchup between two teams sporting 3-4 base defenses, Millen and the Raiders advanced to the championship game as a wild-card team and defeated the Eagles, 27-10. Chris Bahr — brother of Super Bowl champion Matt Bahr, and the son of Penn State legend Walter Bahr — missed a 45-yard field goal early in the game, but responded with a 46-yarder in the third quarter and a 35-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
Super Bowl XX
Mike Hartenstine, Matt Suhey (Chicago Bears), Jon Williams (IRL) (New England Patriots)
In the fourth and most recent matchup of teams making their Super Bowl debuts, the Bears and Patriots met in New Orleans in 1986 to decide the NFL’s new champion.
Considered a cinderella story, New England found itself up by a field goal after recovering a Walter Payton fumble deep in Bears territory on the second play of the game. But luck would turn in the Bears’ favor as the Patriots fumbled on their own 13-yard line later in the first quarter. On the ensuing drive, Penn State’s own Matt Suhey ran for an 11-yard touchdown, the first of of the game. On the next series, Suhey hauled in a 24-yard reception from Jim McMahon to set up a touchdown in the Bears eventual 46-10 win.
Super Bowl XXV
Matt Bahr, Bob Mrosko (New York Giants), Shane Conlan, Mitch Frerotte (Buffalo Bills)
In 1991, 11 years after his first Super Bowl win with the Steelers, Matt Bahr returned to the big game with the New York Giants. Once again, Bahr had the first score of the game, connecting on a 28-yard field goal.
With the Giants down 19-17, a seven-minute, 63-yard drive brought the G-Men down to the three-yard line. Despite having a first and goal, the Giants were forced to settle for a 21-yard field goal to take a 20-19 lead. Bahr’s kick would prove to be the game-winner after Scott Norwood’s infamous “wide right” kick in the closing seconds, giving the Giants their second championship in franchise history and starting a four-year Super Bowl losing streak for the Bills.
Super Bowl XXXV
Sam Gash, Kim Herring (Baltimore Ravens), Kerry Collins, Joe Jurevicius, Brandon Short (New York Giants)
In Kerry Collins’ only Super Bowl appearance, the 1994 first-team All-American and Rose Bowl winner was defeated by one of the league’s all-time best defenses, falling to Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens 34-7 in Tampa, Florida.
Joe Jurevicius, tied for seventh on Penn State’s all-time list for touchdown receptions with 15, was held without a catch. It was a forgettable day for Collins, as the Lebanon, Pennsylvania native threw four interceptions, including one that was returned 49 yards for a touchdown. Even his own alumni were unkind, as former Penn State safety Kim Herring intercepted Collins at the New York 41-yard line on the Giants’ opening drive of the second half.
Super Bowl XXXVII
Joe Jurevicius (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
In 2003, receiver Joe Jurevicius returned to the spotlight with a vengeance, leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in receiving yards in the team’s 48-21 Super Bowl win over the Oakland Raiders. Trailing by a field goal on the team’s second possession, Jurevicius had two receptions for 11 and 23 yards respectively, which set up a field goal to tie the game at 3-3. In the third quarter, Jurevicius had two more catches for 11 and 33 yards on a touchdown drive that put the Raiders up 27-3. Despite being held scoreless, Jurevicius finished with a game-high 78 yards.
Super Bowl XLII
Jay Alford, Kareem McKenzie (New York Giants), Kyle Brady (New England Patriots)
In what will certainly go down as one of the biggest upsets in the history of professional sports, the wild card New York Giants defeated the previously undefeated 18-0 New England Patriots on a last-minute touchdown drive highlighted by David Tyree’s helmet catch and capped by Plaxico Burress’ 13-yard touchdown reception with 35 seconds remaining.
Jay Alford, a four-year starter and two-time All-Big Ten selection for the Nittany Lions, was selected in the third round, 81st overall, by the Giants in the 2007 NFL Draft. After a relatively anonymous rookie campaign that saw Alford compile 8 tackles (1 solo) and 1 sack in 16 regular season and four postseason appearances, the outstanding Penn State lineman came up with the biggest play of his brief professional career in the game’s final moments.
With less than 30 seconds remaining in the game and the Patriots trailing 17-14 with possession of the ball, Alford burst through the middle of the line and sacked Tom Brady, resulting in a 3rd-and-20 situation. The Giants’ defense would hold on, sealing the stunning victory.
Photo: Jen Hudson