Alabama met Penn State for the first time in the 1959 Liberty Bowl, which was Coach Paul W. Bear Bryant’s first bowl game as Alabama Head football coach. Alabama lost that game, 7-0. The two programs last met in the 1990 regular season, where Joe Paterno’s Penn State beat Gene Stallings’ Alabama, 9-0.
Here are short recaps for each of the 13 times these two great programs have faced off.
1959 Liberty Bowl (12/19/59), Philadelphia, PA
Coach Bryant’s first bowl game (and first bowl loss), came against Penn State in the 1959 Liberty Bowl. Penn State was coached by Rip Engle at the time. Rip and JoePa have been the only two head coaches the program has had since Harry S. Truman was President.
1975 Sugar Bowl (12/31/1975), New Orleans, LA
Coach Bryant avenged the Liberty Bowl loss by defeating the Paterno-led Nittany Lions by the score of 13-6.
1979 Sugar Bowl (01/01/79), New Orleans, LA
In arguably the most famous game of the series, Alabama’s 4th quarter goal line stand prevented Penn State from tying the game or going ahead, and Alabama claimed a national championship with a 14-7 win.
1981 Regular Season (11/14/81), State College, PA
In the first of a ten game, regular season home-and-away series, the Tide rolled again, 31-16 on a cold November afternoon in Happy Valley.
1982 Regular Season, (10/09/82), Birmingham, AL
Alabama was ranked #4 in the nation. Penn State was ranked #6. What was a 24-21 close game went south for Penn State as Bama recovered a fumbled punt snap and picked off QB Todd Blackledge late in the game to make a 42-21 game look like a rout. Penn State would later beat Georgia in the Sugar Bowl for JoePa’s first consensus national title.
1983 Regular Season (10/08/83), State College, PA
In a game that many Tide fans still feel was taken away from them, Walter Lewis hit Preston Gothard for what looked like the go ahead score, on 4th and goal, with 08 seconds left in the game. But despite replays showing Gothard getting a foot down, the play was ruled out of bounds and Penn State claimed the win, 34-28. You be the judge, here.
1984 Regular Season (10/13/84), Tuscaloosa, AL
Alabama gritted out the slobber-knocker defensive struggle, winning 6-0. Van Tiffin set an Alabama school record with a 53-yard field goal. Neither team could get much else going offensively, but the Bama defense ruled the day in the lowest scoring game of the series.
1985 Regular Season (10/12/85), State College, PA
Alabama came in ranked #8. Penn State held the #6 ranking. In a close, hard fought game that wasn’t decided until the last series, Penn State held on to win 19-17. Alabama made a great attempt to come back from a 19-10 deficit, scoring a TD with 08 seconds left, but losing the ensuing high onsides kickoff. This game probably exemplifies the series: Tough, clean, hard hitting but well played, and entertaining football.
1986 Regular Season (10/25/86), Tuscaloosa, AL
In its first home loss in the series, Alabama saw Penn State’s superior offensive line and running attack break a close game open in the second half, winning 23-3 on a cold, wet, bleary day at Bryant-Denny.
1987 Regular Season (09/12/87), State College, PA
The visiting Alabama Crimson Tide returned the guest-as-spoiler favor, routing Penn State 24-13 in a game that really wasn’t as close as the score indicated.
1988 Regular Season (10/22/88), Birmingham, AL
The series returned to October, as Alabama returned to Legion Field in Birmingham to host the Nittany Lions. The game was another yawner, the second closest in the series with Bama winning 8-0 in another defensive slobber-knocker.
1989 Regular Season (10/28/89), State College, PA
If the ‘85 game isn’t the Bama fans’ favorite for excitement, the ‘89 game is. After another clean, well-played game the Tide was leading 17-16, with Penn State lining up for the go-ahead FG. Bama DL Thomas Rayam blocked Ray Tarasi's attempt after a high snap, and Alabama won a nailbiter, 17-16.
1990 Regular Season (10/27/90), Tuscaloosa, AL
In the last matchup of the decade-long regular season series, Penn State garnered its first shut-out of the rivalry, with a crushing defense and a gritty, 9-0 win.