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The scene of the crime

Gill has intriguing connection to Penn State

September 11, 2007
By Cory Giger,
Penn State plays the other Buffalo this week, not the Bills, the Bulls. Jim Kelly didn’t play there, they didn’t lose four straight Super Bowls and Paul Posluszny isn’t one of their linebackers.

There is one interesting thing, however — and maybe only one — about the Nittany Lions’ opponent Saturday. Buffalo’s coach, Turner Gill, has a fascinating history in college football and with Penn State.

Gill was the starting quarterback on some tremendous Nebraska teams in the early 1980s. He’s perhaps best known for his role on the 1983 squad, which might be considered the best college team of all time if not for one loss.

The Huskers dropped a 31-30 decision to Miami in a thrilling Orange Bowl, with Gill’s two-point conversion pass falling incomplete in the final minute to give the Hurricanes the national championship.

‘‘I think we’ve all gotten over it,’’ Gill, in his second season as Buffalo’s coach, said of the Huskers’ disappointment over that loss.

‘‘Obviously [we were] very disappointed when it all happened and took place. But I know that we all played hard, and they were the best team that particular night and they beat us. ... Life goes on and moves on. You learn from what takes place.’’

That Nebraska team featured Heisman Trophy-winning running back Mike Rozier, Gill, who finished fourth in the Heisman voting, and standout receiver Irving Fryar. The Huskers outscored their opponents by an average of 52-15.

Penn State knew all about how good Nebraska was that year. The Lions and Huskers met in the Kickoff Classic in the Meadowlands, and Nebraska crushed PSU, 44-6.

The cover of Sports Illustrated that week featured a picture of Rozier and read: ‘‘Oh, those Huskers! Nebraska’s Mike Rozier rips through Penn State.’’

For the record, Rozier didn’t rip through anything as he had only 71 yards on 16 carries and didn’t score a touchdown. Gill had an impressive game, completing 11-of-14 passes for 158 yards and rushing 13 times for 53 yards. He ran for one TD and threw for another.

‘‘We played very, very well against [Penn State],’’ Gill said. ‘‘I know we got off to a great start with them and played very well and had good things happen.

‘‘The year before, in ’82, they beat us, so it was great to come back and play them at New Jersey and come up with a win.’’

That ’82 game is a huge part of Lion lore as PSU rallied for a 27-24 win at Beaver Stadium and went on to win the national title.

Gill led Nebraska on an 80-yard drive in the closing minutes and scored from a yard out for a 24-21 lead with 1:18 to play. Todd Blackledge then marched the Lions 65 yards and hit tight end Kirk Bowman for a 2-yard TD with only four seconds left to give PSU the thrilling victory.

That was Nebraska’s only loss that season, and there are folks in the Husker camp who feel they were robbed in the game by the officials. It turns out they may be right.

Penn State tight end Mike McCloskey made a 15-yard catch down to the 2 to set up the game-winning TD, but there was controversy over whether McCloskey was out of bounds when he made the grab.

Even McCloskey has admitted he was indeed out of bounds.

In 1998, McCloskey attended a Nebraska function in Omaha and introduced Gill, then the Huskers’ quarterbacks coach. McCloskey owned up to being out of bounds on the controversial catch.

‘‘That’s the first time I’ve ever said I was out,’’ McCloskey told The Associated Press that night.

‘‘Maybe it was a good thing I was out of bounds because it kind of made me famous.’’

Proving that what goes around comes around, the Huskers may have felt they were robbed of a chance at the national title in 1982, while Penn State feels it was robbed in 1994 despite being undefeated. None other than Nebraska won the title that year.

‘‘There are no hard feelings, since we got our championship in 1994 and they didn’t,’’ Gill said at that 1998 event that featured McCloskey.

‘‘I know what happened in 1982,’’ McCloskey said that evening, ‘‘but that still wasn’t as bad as what the rotten pollsters did to us in 1994. We deserved a share of the title.’’

Cory Giger is at 949-7031 and

Article Photos

Turner Gill, the one-time quarterback at Nebraska in the 1980s, is now the head coach at the University of Buffalo.

Fact Box

Turner Gill file
In his second season as Buffalo’s head coach
The Bulls went 2-10 last season and are 1-1 this year; they’re coming off a 42-7 win over Temple
Went 28-2 as starting quarterback at Nebraska in the early ’80s; one of those losses came at Penn State in 1982, while the other was in the famous 1984 Orange Bowl against Bernie Kosar and Miami for the national championship
Assistant coach at Nebraska from 1992-2004, helping the Huskers win national titles in ’94, ’95 and ’97 under head coach Tom Osborne
Played two seasons for Montreal Concordes in the Canadian Football League

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