Remarks to the Penn State Nittany Lions, National Collegiate Football Champions

February 2, 1987

Well, President Jordan and Coach Paterno and players of the Penn State football team, let me start by saying congratulations! You know, I was a sports announcer once, and in one broadcast, I referred to the Nittany Lions. And you've got a widespread alumni. I got letters from all over, because I was talking about the Columbia -- or talking to the Columbia Lions. [Laughter] And I found out who the Nittany Lions really were. [Laughter] Well, the undefeated national champions of college football -- it's a title that you all fought hard to win, and the Fiesta Bowl was a fitting end to a proud season. You showed that you deserved to be national champions.

In the 100 years since that November day when Penn State's first football team took the field and beat Bucknell 54 to nothing, I bet there haven't been many more exciting moments than those when, with seconds to go, Miami was knocking and you didn't let them in. First came Tim Johnson's sack of a great athlete, Vinny Testaverde, who had a receiver wide open with a sure chance to score. And then came Pete Giftopoulous' goal line interception; Penn State players and fans will remember it as long as they live. Pete and Tim, you and the entire squad played cool, smart, hard-hitting defense. You forced errors in the opposition, and that's saying a lot, because Miami is an outstanding team, and they don't usually make mistakes.

As for the offense, same story: smart and hard-hitting. Down by 7 minutes to go in the first half, you -- that isn't 7 minutes. I sort of sloughed that. Down by 7, minutes to go in the first half -- [laughter] -- you drove 74 yards; and then with everyone covered and no second chances, John Shaffer ran the last 4 yards himself. And Penn State was on the board and on the way.

And let me just say a word for someone who's often forgotten: the kicker. Every time John Bruno punted, it meant their own 40 or 25 or, most of the time even further back than that for Miami. I could go on and talk about what every one of you did. Trey Bauer said afterwards, ``This is the greatest game in Penn State history.'' And if anyone is going to take issue with that, it isn't going to be me. [Laughter] He's bigger than me -- [laughter] -- and a little younger. [Laughter]

But, yes, you of Penn State showed all the pundits and the odd-makers, who'd said that at last you'd met your match, that they were just plain dead wrong. And you know, that so inspires me that next time I go see Congress I might just wear that Nittany Lions hat. [Laughter]

Now before I finish, let me say a special congratulations to Coach Joe Paterno. For my money, I think he's one of the greatest coaches ever in college sports. And I'm not thinking just of his two national championships, his four times as coach of the year, his six undefeated regular seasons, his 15 seasons in the top 10, his 80-percent winning record, or his lifetime total of 199 victories. No, I say he's one of the best, because while accumulating all those honors and records, he's never forgotten that, first and foremost, he's a teacher who's preparing his students not just for the season but for life. America is great because through our history we've had men and women with his kind of goodness, honor, and decency; his kind of dedication to his calling; and, yes, his kind of values.

So, Coach Paterno and all of you, welcome to the White House, congratulations, and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 1:19 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, the President referred to Bryce Jordan, president of Penn State University, and Trey Bauer who was a linebacker on the team.