Iowa is always a challenge for Penn State. Even getting there, if it’s an away game. We drove from State College to Iowa once. From State College, it’s a grueling 17-hours one-way on Route 80. You can’t do that for a 3-day football weekend. So flying is the only choice.
Last year, Penn State’s problems with Iowa started at University Park Airport. We had arrived about 5 a.m. to University Park Airport for a 6 a.m. Northwest flight to Detroit. About half the plane was reserved for official representatives of Penn State who were also headed for the Iowa game: the cheerleaders, the pep band, the Nittany Lion, and numerous staff members of the Penn State Alumni Association.
Our plane had a mechanical problem, discovered the night before. The exit door, which also functions as a stairway off the plane, had some sort of failure when the door was opened, and it hit the ground hard. So as a safety precaution, a mechanic had to be called in to inspect the door. Evidently mechanics in State College aren’t on 24-hour call. He showed up at his usual start time, at 8 a.m. or so. So we didn’t leave University Park Airport until about 8:30 a.m.
Terry and I weren’t happy about the delay but our flights were okay. We actually had a 3-hour layover in Detroit to catch our booked flight to Quad Cities, about 70 minutes from Iowa City. We arrived at our hotel in Davenport, Iowa when expected, and would drive to Iowa City the next day for the game.
But the Penn State Alumni Association had a commitment to be at an alumni function Friday night with the band and cheerleaders, and it was clear that they would all miss their connection to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. There just weren’t many alternative flights into Cedar Rapids, nor were there that many seats. Roger Williams, Executive Director of the Penn State Alumni Association, was trying anything he could to delay the flight out of Detroit for Cedar Rapids, but the delay was too long. Nor were there enough seats on later flights into Cedar Rapids.
So Northwest changed all the official Penn State folks to a flight to Minneapolis, and then they rented a bus – another six hours or so - from Minneapolis to Iowa City to get to their event. They made it, but it was a very rough travel day.
The travel problems for Penn State served as a foreboding for the game itself. Nothing was going to go as planned.
The plan was to win. We were playing a team that had an overall record of 5-4. Iowa had lost to Pittsburgh, Northwestern, Michigan State, and Illinois. We were undefeated, looking towards a national championship, and had a weekend off after upsetting Ohio State at Ohio Stadium, an incredible victory! We were ranked #3 in the country. We had a quarterback, Darryl Clark, who was injured at Ohio State, but who had nearly two weeks to recover from his concussion. And we had a backup quarterback, Pat Devlin, who led the team to victory after that injury happened.
Iowa played us tough at Kinnick Stadium. But we were winning well into the 4th quarter. Then, things started falling apart.
Unlike the Penn State Alumni Association, the Penn State football team couldn’t make the necessary adjustments late in the game to achieve their goal.