PSU's arms race

Former Penn State players and current NFL pros Michael Robinson, left, and Larry Johnson joke around near the sideline. (Jeff Ruppenthal, Sunday News)

Penn State fans have never seen anything like this, if today’s email inbox is any indication.

That’s not wrong; Penn State has never been 0-5 before, and it’s been playing football since 1887.

But Nittany Nation residents old enough to drown their sorrows have seen hard times. Inexplicable, bumbling hard times, and not that long ago. This seems like a good moment to remember that.

In 2003 and ‘04, the Nittany Lions went 7-16. Among the seven wins were triumphs over a Central Florida team that went 0-11, a Temple team that went 1-11, and Indiana teams that went 2-14 in the Big Ten.

The infamous 6-4 loss at home to Iowa in ‘04 was Penn State’s 11th loss in 12 Big Ten games. The current team, of course, will play only Big Ten games.

The 03-04 teams played defense (Paul Posluszny, Tamba Hali, etc.), and had some tough dudes (Tony Hunt, Michael Robinson doing time mostly as an H-back) but the offense was a two-year dumpster fire.

Through the ‘03 season, offensive coordinator Fran Ganter was on the field during games, and quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno had a play-calling role from the press box.

Then Ganter was transitioned into an administrative job, and Galen Hall hired to run the offense. Hall and Jay Paterno both worked games from the press box.

“Jay and Ganter basically ran a two-man show,’’ quarterback Zack Mills said then, adding that, in ‘04, “Galen pretty much puts together the running plays and Jay does the passing stuff.’’

Mills freely acknowledged that, “There have been times when there’s been delays getting the plays in.’’

A fun part of covering the team then was training one’s binoculars on the Penn State sideline and watching that process, getting the plays in, sputter and misfire. TV time-outs when Penn State had the ball were virtual slapstick farce, sometimes punctuated by Joe Paterno shouldering his way into a ragged huddle, yelling something, and then shouldering his way back out.

In ‘04, Robinson would spell Mills occasionally. Mills thus got to observe the circus from the sidelines. During one of those raucous TV time-outs, he whispered to Robinson, “Is it always like this over here?” Robinson: “Yeah, pretty much.’’

Late in the 6-4 game, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz took an intentional safety because he thought he had a better chance of losing by messing up a punt then by Penn State moving the ball enough to kick a field goal.

People thought that game must’ve been hard to write about. It wrote itself, as farce.

In December of ‘04, Penn State University President Graham Spanier and some other administrators (details of this story remain in dispute) visited Joe Paterno at his home to talk about his possible retirement. Joe wasn’t quitting, of course.

You know the punch line. In 2005, out of nowhere, Penn State turned it around. Robinson, at QB, was a transformational figure. The Lions went 11-1. The loss, 27-25 at Michigan, was a controversial one.

Penn State beat Florida State in triple overtime in the Orange Bowl (LNP literally stopped the presses, way after what was supposed to be deadline, to get the story in the paper) and finished No. 3 in the country.

Those teams didn’t have a pandemic to deal with. JoePa was making about one-tenth James Franklin’s current salary.

If there’s anyone like Michael Robinson on the current roster, he hasn’t begun to show himself.

Also, in ‘04, the fan consensus was itching for the Anthony Morelli Era to begin.

Things change fast. Be careful what you wish for.