“Todd Blackledge Leans on Iconic New Testament Verse During Game-Winning Drive”
Penn State 27, Nebraska 24 (September 24, 1982)
When Nebraska traveled to University Park, Pennsylvania for a non-conference game against host Penn State, the 85,304 fans in attendance most likely didn’t know what they were about to witness. Certainly there was the spectacle of numerous future NFL athletes such as Curt Warner, Gregg Garrity, Bill Contz, Walker Lee Ashley (Nittany Lions), Irving Fryar, Mike Rozier, Roger Craig, and Dave Rimington (Cornhuskers). There was also the first-class battle between two legendary coaches—Joe Paterno and Tom Osborne.
But when the game was on the line, it all weighed down on the shoulders of Penn State’s senior quarterback Todd Blackledge. Trailing 24-21, the Nittany Lions offense took the field at its own 35-yard line with just 1:18 left in the game. Throughout the drive that followed, Blackledge calmed himself as he repetitiously recited one of his favorite Bible verses:
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
For decades, that iconic New Testament passage has served as an inspiration to countless athletes and coaches. On this day, it was Blackledge whose play was bolstered by the apostle Paul’s words as he orchestrated an exhilarating 65-yard drive. With seconds remaining, he threw a long pass to tight end Mike McCloskey that resulted in a controversial completion call. Then, on the two-yard line, Blackledge faked the hand-off before tossing the game-winning touchdown to his other tight end Kirk Bowman.
Penn State’s come-from-behind victory spurred an 11-1 finish including a 27-23 Sugar Bowl upset over Herschel Walker and top-ranked Georgia, and garnered the Nittany Lions’ first national championship. Blackledge, who was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated following the Nebraska game, received much of the credit for his team’s success.
“People ask me what’s been the key to my improvement,” he told People Magazine that same season. “And I talk about how I never worked so hard before, how I worked out all summer to improve my drop-backs, my agility, my delivery. But deep in my heart I know that the real key was my spiritual preparation.”
For Blackledge, the result on the field might have been a big victory, but away from the game, the strength found in that biblical passage has been equally significant.