Before getting into game plans and strategies, Joe Paterno started the week off with a history lesson.
He can’t blame his players for being oblivious to Penn State’s rivalry with Syracuse – some of them weren’t even able to walk and talk the last time the schools met.
“To be honest, I’m not very familiar with (the history),” said senior safety Anthony Scirrotto.
“I don’t know too much about it,” said fellow captain A.Q. Shipley. “I know they played every year for awhile, and I think there were a lot of great games played between the teams. Coach brings it up a lot, all those great games. There was a great rivalry, but I don’t know too much about the history.”
And these are the seniors.
So Paterno has taken it upon himself to school his players on what the series used to mean – how important it was for both programs.
That tradition will be epitomized by the dozens of former Syracuse players who are in town for the weekend to take in today’s game as well as the premiere of “The Express,” a film based on the life and career of Syracuse Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis.
It figures to bring back at least a hint of the flavor the rivalry used to possess.
“Coach talked to us about how big this game is just from that standpoint,” Scirrotto said. “There’s going to be a lot of … famous people (there) like Jim Brown. And there’s going to be a packed house. It’s gonna be loud, it’s gonna be packed, and we’re looking forward to something new.”
As new as a series that’s been played 68 times can be, at least.
The storied showdowns between the Nittany Lions and Orange(men) abruptly ended in 1990 after Paterno’s hopes for an all-sport Eastern conference faded away.
The Lions, who would join the Big Ten shortly thereafter, had been asking for six games in Happy Valley and four up in Syracuse in the last round of negotiations rather than the equitable split that was the norm for the series.
Syracuse balked and the former rivals walked away with bitter feelings on each side.
Twelve years later, the two schools agreed to a simple home-and-home series just before the 2002 season began.
“Well, after Penn State joined the Big Ten, scheduling was tough after that,” Syracuse coach Greg Robinson said. “So I think that part of it was a factor. Syracuse people really believe they should be playing Penn State year-in and year-out. I know I’m pleased Penn State and Syracuse are playing.”
Things have changed quite a bit not just from the last time the two teams played, but even since this series was scheduled.
At the time, the Orange had been coming off a 10-win season and were a competitive team in the Big East under former coach Paul Pasqualoni.
Under Robinson, the Orange are just 7-30 and bring an 0-2 record into the game.
But Paterno has gone to great lengths to tell his team to ignore those unflattering numbers, and he has used history to help accomplish that.
“All week Joe’s said how far we go back with Syracuse,” quarterback Daryll Clark said. “There was a time when we played those guys 45 years straight and during then, you had guys like Floyd Little and Larry Csonka and Jim Brown.
“They’re gonna be amped up for this game. It’s not gonna be a cakewalk. There will be a lot of people there, a lot of returning guys and alumni. Joe’s been harping on us not to take this game lightly.”
Penn State (2-0) at Syracuse (0-2)
3:30 p.m. today
Carrier Dome, Syracuse