This week, we loaded the time machine with heavily-leaded gasoline and went chugging all the way back to 1979. There we found an interesting late-season tilt featuring the North Carolina State Wolfpack and the Penn State Nittany Lions.
Far be it from me to convince anyone this was an exciting game. Penn State won 9-7, but there are a number of reasons this one jumped out at me.
First of all, the full broadcast below includes commercials. Skip them if you want, but it sure felt like finding gold when I stumbled upon the first five minutes. If you’ve never seen an enormous musical number that touts the greatness of K-Mart, well I’d say you’re missing out.
It’s mentioned early that the head official flat out refused to wear a microphone which is hilariously quaint. The color commentator praises Penn State’s, “Wide open offense” during a drive that featured almost entirely runs and short passes. Shortly after he says, “I think we’re going to see an offensive show of fireworks today.” Oops.
Let’s take a moment to praise legendary play-by-play man Ray Scott who helmed this show. His minimalist style is so refreshing. It’s even more impressive when you consider that he came up on radio in the 1930s, yet he still understood how to let the pictures do the work and give the broadcast room to breathe.
As for the teams, they were both pretty good.
NC State finished the year 7-4 and was ranked in the top 20 for much of the season before a late October loss to No. 19 North Carolina dropped them from the polls.
Penn State began the season ranked No. 7 but that was undone when they lost early games to Texas A&M and No. 6 Nebraska. They would lose two more high profile games to ranked opponents Miami and Pittsburgh in the regular season.
A Liberty Bowl berth against No. 15 Tulane ended in a scintillating 9-6 Nittany Lion victory. Fueled by the win, Penn State finished ranked No. 20 in the AP Poll.
Obviously, football was a completely different game then. It’s kind of like watching a Georgia Tech vs. Navy game in 2018. There are lots of quick-hitting runs coupled with sporadic, often inaccurate passes.
Wolfpack starting quarterback Scott Smith threw for 1,043 yard with five touchdowns and six interceptions. Penn State’s Dayle Tate wasn’t much better tallying 1,1179 yards, eight scores and 11 picks.
NC State averaged 23.5 points per game in 1979 which was good for 42nd in the nation. Last season, that would have placed them tied for 103rd with the University of Texas-San Antonio and Wyoming.
This game presents an interesting window into a time long forgotten, both athletically and culturally. Even purely from a broadcast point of view, this one is worth a look.