Penn State… a great choice for me!
by Dave Rowe
Imagine making a choice that will literally change your life at 17 years old! That’s what young high school athletes have to do! What school do I choose? Why do I want to go there? It’s not like your shopping for clothes or shoes where if you don’t like them you can change. It’s one of the biggest decisions in your life.
Who do you turn to for help? What considerations go into your decision? Most times it has to do with everything that is NOT educational.
There are no “Better” deals in college. A scholarship is a scholarship. Now the school might be a better institution, but rarely does that come into play. For an athlete, it’s usually: Will I play? How soon? Will this be a stepping stone to the next level? That’s one of the sad things in college football today. Today, it can be “one and done.” When I went to school it was a four year commitment on your part and on theirs!
Will I play? Stepping stone to the next level… For me, nothing could have been farther than the answers to those questions. I was totally confused. I actually chose Penn State because it was somewhat close to home and I was seriously dating a high school girl that I would later marry!
If the truth be known, I was actually little tricked into picking Penn State by Sevor Toretti, one of the academic advisors. He said, when I asked about the cold and snow on that January day that I visited, “Hey you can pick bananas anytime of the year here at Penn State.” I said Yeah, RIGHT! Whereupon he said, “if you can pick a banana anytime of the year will you come?” I said,”YES!” He proceeded to take me to some greenhouses on campus and there they were… BANANAS! That evening he introduced me at dinner saying, “Dave has made a commitment to come to Penn State.”
Penn State was a great choice for me. Academically, it was tough, but I graduated in four years. Athletically, it was challenging. I think everyone on my freshman team was an All American or Big 33 Pennsylvania player! Me, I was just a BIG KID from New Jersey that they thought could play!
Football was easy for me. “Kill or be Killed”. Wow, these players were good! Once I got down how to throw a forearm, I excelled as a defensive tackle. Started my junior and senior years and even played some as a sophomore.
There were games I will never forget. The California game, when we lost by 1 point. We were ahead. California had the ball on their own 46 yard line with 2 seconds to go. Rip Engle, then head coach, took out the linemen and put all defensive backs in. Well, they threw a 54 yard pass that the receiver actually caught on his back in the end zone to win… It was a long ride home!
I will never forget my senior year. Penn State’s stadium sat perhaps 45,000 during my college years. I do not believe we ever sold out. I cannot imagine playing today in front of the 116,000 fans that today sell out in season tickets!
Anyone who has ever played at Penn State will tell you, “Penn State football is different!" From those fancy uniforms that I wore and that they still wear today, to never spiking the ball, to no individual glory and playing as a team, Penn State is truly one of a kind in football! I often wonder will it change when Joe Paterno leaves the field?
One of the greatest lessons of life was going to be taught to me by Joe Paterno my senior year. We played our first game against Maryland. We won. The defense actually scored 3 safeties in the game.
To set the scene, I had been married only a few weeks before the season started and was anxious for my wife Faith to attend the game. After the game, notice I said AFTER the game Coach Paterno said we will have an 11:00 PM curfew.
There I was enjoying the family and my wife and 11:00 PM pops up! What to do? That’s when I said, “Oh don’t worry Coach Paterno will understand why I missed it. Also I’m a senior. Also I’m married and …” Needless to say, he did not understand! He flailed into me like you would not believe. Threw me off the team! I was devastated, what do I do now?
Fortunately, several seniors went to him and said, “Coach…we think that is too harsh a penalty for Dave. Also, he doesn’t drink! He was out with his family. We think he should be kept on the team!"
Well Paterno brought me back as a scout team player. A scout team player runs all the opponents plays for the defense and offense. Well, at least I was back! I was in the killer mode and really played hard on Tuesday and Wednesday… what would Coach do?
I was killing the offense with hard play and I believe Paterno saw my desire and that I was sorry so he called me in on Thursday and said “Rowe, I’m putting you back on first team, but if you ever break a rule your GONE!!! UNDERSTAND?” That Brooklyn accent never sounded better. I was back with my friends I was playing.
Athletes always think during pre-season or tough practices, "I sure wish I could stand over there and watch. If I was hurt I wouldn’t have to…"
NO real athlete wants any part of the game except playing! I was no different. I wanted to play and I LOVED playing football! I had learned the greatest lesson of what breaking a rule could mean. Giving up playing football had taught me a lesson for life! I would go on to play 13 years in the NFL and NEVER break any rules.
Don’t worry, I had my share of penalties, but never broke any rules! My senior year record was a so-so year for Penn State standards. Six wins and four losses would not get you an invite to any bowls in those days. The ending of that year however brought with it several Bowl Game opportunities for me. East West Shrine, Hula Bowl and College All-Star games all called and I said, “SURE, I’ll play!”
I’m very thankful I went to Penn State. Why? First of all the tremendous tradition Penn State carries with it; Playing at a school that has never had an NCAA investigation and perhaps never will; The honor of having played for the legendary Joe Paterno; My education; My scholarship; And the list goes on! As I look back on those years it was a fantastic time in my life. I truly played football for the love of the game!
Oh yeah, let me thank the real person who helped me in my decision making - Thanks Lord for hearing my prayers!
Former Oakland Raider, NBC Analyst, and College Football Analyst Dave Rowe recently retired to the beautiful mountains of North Carolina after more than a 50 year association with the game of football. Eye on Sports Media approached Dave and asked him if he would like to write a series of guest articles recounting his history with the game. The man, who proudly states that his rear-end is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, thought it would be fun.