80 Reasons to Love the Big Ten - No. 27 - Joe Paterno Tells Dick Nixon To Stick It

Since the Big Ten Network has taken ownership of Penn State's 1982 national title by calling the 1983 Sugar Bowl victory one of "The Big Ten's Greatest Games," we at the Rivalry feel perfectly fine with naming JoePa's verbal smackdown of Dick Nixon one of the 80 Reasons to love the Big Ten.



The story is familiar to many. In 1969, three undefeated teams remained on the final day of the regular season. #1 Ohio State was upset by Michigan, leaving Texas, Arkansas, and Penn State as the remaining undefeated programs. The former two met in the season finale with much fanfare. President Nixon, looking mainly towards Southern votes and good publicity, attended the game and declared that the winner of the Texas-Arkansas game would be the National Champion and given a plaque supporting his declaration. This was an odd statement from the President because the bowl season had not even commenced. Nonetheless, Texas won and received its national title plaque from Nixon.

Being a consummate politician, Nixon also decided that undefeated Penn State should receive a plaque for their winning streak. When the White House called Joe Paterno to inquire about what to do with the plaque, JoePa said, "You tell the president to take that trophy and shove it."

Paterno told the same story a couple years ago at a pep rally and everyone went ape shit, for good reason. No one tells the president off; people just smile, shake the hand, and grumble in private. I see a couple of interesting facts/questions in Paterno's most famous phrase:

  • Did this actually happen? Can it be verified somehow? (This doesn't really matter - legendary stories are amazing even if they are in fact, legend)
  • Did Penn State ever get the plaque? Did Dick Nixon put Paterno on his famous "enemies" list?
  • Where is that video of Paterno whipping the pep rally into a frenzy with his retelling of the story?
  • It shocks me that after this ridiculous circumstance of two undefeated teams not playing at the end of the season (PSU played in the 1969 Orange Bowl, Texas played in the Cotton), nothing was effectively done to alter the Bowl System until the 1990's.
  • Paterno's statement shows two of his best two attributes, loyalty and passion. He knew that PSU's players had won all their games and didn't want a Consolation Prize when he knew they deserved more. So he told the future Mr. Watergate to shove it. Priceless.
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