Friday, September 14, 2012

Penn State vs. Navy: "Fumbles" Donchez and a Shaky Chris Bahr

Let me first say I wasn’t a Penn State fan in 1974.  I was clueless about college football, and didn’t know anything about the Penn State Nittany Lions. 

But my husband Terry was a fan. In 1970 he moved from Missouri to Pennsylvania to work at Air Products and Chemicals headquarters in Allentown, PA.  His first Penn State football game was actually at the Orange Bowl in Miami, and he was very upset when Penn State won that game.  He was rooting for Missouri.  Before that, he was an Ohio State fan.

But then he moved to Pennsylvania.  Always college football fans, he and his former wife were convinced by the realtor who sold them their house that they should buy Penn State season tickets.  And so they did. 

Terry has held those tickets ever since, and has attended a total of 435 Penn State games since 1970.  The last 272 games he has seen are in a row, and include all home, away, and bowl games played since September 1990.  Terry was at the last Navy vs. Penn State game played in 1974.

 And I have listened many times to Terry tell the story of “Fumbles” Tommy Donchez who played such a key role in the loss at that Penn State vs. Navy game.

Tommy Donchez was Terry’s colleague at Air Products, and I have met him several times over the years before Terry retired in 1996.  Tommy was a running back on that 1974 team, and in the Navy game he lost five fumbles in rainy conditions. 

At least that’s the summary according to the user DaMan as cited in  That’s the only online account I can find of this game, a quick summary really with not a lot of detail.

Terry remembers Tommy fumbling seven times, but maybe two of those were recovered, or perhaps Terry’s memory is faulty.  In any case, Tommy "Fumbles" Donchez had a very ugly game.  And Terry loved to rub it in whenever he saw Tommy during the years they worked together, which lasted until 1996.

In the 2nd quarter of that game, Navy successfully conducted an 80-yard drive, scored a touchdown, and made the extra point attempt. The score was 7-0.

Penn State scored a touchdown after that.  In those days of no overtime, when a tie could in fact occur, Coach Joe Paterno decided to go for a two-point conversion.  The team didn’t make it.  The score became 7-6 in favor of Navy.

According to DaMan’s account, Penn State earned 267 rushing yards in the game.  They fumbled in the red zone twice.  In addition, converted soccer player and field goal kicker Chris Bahr missed four field goals.

Penn State had a 20-6 advantage in first downs but it didn’t matter due to fumbles and missed field goals.  At the end of the game, the score remained.  Navy beat Penn State 7-6.

Are there any parallels to last week’s game against Virginia?  Seems like Penn State had trouble with the running game and the kicking game last week against Virginia as well.  As well as a defense that couldn't hold on when it was third and long.

Too many people are blaming Sam Ficken, the kicker, for that loss, forgetting that Penn State had at least three opportunities in the red zone to score a touchdown and that the defense had a hard time stopping Virginia. 

So what happened to “Fumbles” Donchez?  He improved over the season.  And Chris Bahr did his share also through the rest of that 1974 season. 

For the rest of the season, Donchez would help Penn State win all but one of the rest of its games and achieve the Cotton Bowl win of 41-20 against Baylor and a consensus 7th place in both the AP and UPI polls for an overall 10-2 season.

After Donchez graduated he played pro football for the Chicago Bears before settling into the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania and joining Air Products as a professional. 

He became a success off the field as well as on the field, and more recently was one of the producers of the documentary about Joe Paterno's relationship with his players entitled “The Joe We Know”. 

What about Chris Bahr, the kicker recruited from a soccer team?  He missed four field goals against Navy.  But in 1975, Bahr led the Nittany Lions in scoring.  He played both soccer and football and was named an All-American three times for soccer and once for football.  After he graduated he was drafted to play professional soccer for a while.

Then Bahr played football for the Cincinnati Bengals, and then became a placekicker for the Oakland Raiders, where he earned 162 career field goals and his scoring record wasn’t surpassed until 2007.   He wound up his NFL career at the San Diego Padres in 1989.

Also while at the Raiders, Bahr went to law school part-time and earned a juris doctor degree from the Southwestern University School of Law.  (Source of the above: Wikipedia)

Is it possible that Sam Ficken could turn around his game? Of course.  There have been several other players who have suffered dry spells and turned it around. 

He needs to keep the faith, and do his best.   And regardless of what happens on Saturday, we need to thank him for sticking with Penn State during these troubled times. 

As for us, I had two brothers who served in the Navy.  Despite that....Go Penn State!  Beat Navy! 

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