PSU Stars Look Back on Football, Food and Fans
By Jeff Cavanaugh
If you walk around Happy Valley on a football weekend and strike up a conversation about the best Penn State teams ever, you’re sure to hear about the undefeated, unstoppable 1994 team and the 2005 11-1 team that was one play away from a perfect season.
We caught up with three former Penn State stars that were the cornerstones of the 1994 and 2005 teams to find out their favorite on-field memories and their favorite places to eat and hang out in and around Happy Valley.
#32 Ki-Jana Carter
There was no running back in Penn State history as exciting as Ki-Jana Carter was in 1994. Every time he touched the ball, there was a chance he was taking it the distance. No one will ever forget the first play of the Rose Bowl when he outraced everyone for an 83-yard touchdown run. If Penn State’s juggernaut offense didn’t blow out everyone in their path — averaging a ridiculous 48 points per game in Big Ten games — Carter probably would have ended up with the Heisman Trophy before being taken #1 overall in the 1995 NFL Draft.
During his junior season, Ki-Jana ran for 1,539 yards on only 198 carries – including 139 yards and four touchdowns in his most memorable game – the 63-14 Homecoming blowout of then #21 Ohio State “Being from the Columbus area, it was a big deal,” Carter said.
And like every player that has had the honor to play for Penn State, Carter still raves about the game day atmosphere in State College.
“From driving on the bus to the stadium, getting greeted by the fans when we got there and then playing in the best stadium in the world,” Carter added.
When he gets back to town these days, Carter has multiple favorite spots to stop in for a bite to eat.
“There are so many restaurants that it’s hard to pick one: Lion’s Den, CC Peppers, The Waffle Shop, The Tavern,” Carter said.
However, if he had to pick his favorite meals or menu items in Happy Valley, Carter goes for CC Peppers’ California Style Chicken Cheesesteak (melted cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and mayo) and then breakfast at the Waffle Shop.
#81 Kyle Brady
Penn State’s 1994 team had three offensive players drafted in the top 10 picks – running back Ki-Jana Carter (#1), quarterback Kerry Collins (#5) and tight end Kyle Brady (#9). Brady, a consensus All-American and two-time All-Big Ten selection was a force at tight end both as a blocker and a receiver. As a senior, Brady caught 27 passes for 365 yards and two touchdowns.
“The 1994 season was a great year. We were just a group of guys that really bought into Joe’s philosophy and his way of doing things,” Brady said. “We were all in that year; we worked our butts off and it all came together.”
Among Brady’s favorite memories of the 1994 season were the thrilling 31-24 victory over #5 Michigan at the Big House and the thrilling comeback from down 21 points at Illinois to save their undefeated season.
“Penn State was such a beautiful place to play, and I don’t know if I appreciated it as much as I should have when I was there,” Brady added. “It really is as special a place as there is in college football when you’re playing there on Saturdays.”
Brady went on to play 13 seasons with the New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars and New England Patriots and caught 25 touchdowns in his NFL career. He is now an attorney in Florida and hopes to get back to State College later this season.
“If I get a chance, I go to The Tavern and catch up; such great memories there and the all-you-can-eat sides,” Brady said. “I also try to make it to the Creamery with my kids. It is such a classic and has such great tradition there.”
And like most Penn State alums, Brady was a big fan of the grilled stickies at the now closed Ye Olde College Diner.
“You have one of those warmed up with some ice cream and they are just incredible,” Brady said.
Thankfully, the grilled stickies did not go away when The Diner closed. The same, world-famous grilled stickies are now available at The Corner Room at 100 W. College Ave.
#12 Michael Robinson
Penn State has arguably never had a more versatile and do-it-all player than Michael Robinson. Before taking the reins as the team’s star quarterback in 2005, Robinson made an impact as a wide receiver and running back. The Nittany Lions knew that somehow, someway they needed to get the ball in the hands of #12.
In his spectacular 2005 season, Robinson threw for 2,350 yards and 17 touchdowns on 162-of-311 passing and ran for 806 yards and 11 scores. He was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and finished in the top five in the Heisman Trophy vote.
From the comeback at Northwestern when Robinson found Derrick Williams for a 37-yard game-winning touchdown with under a minute remaining to the thrilling 17-10 win over Ohio State in front of a deafeningly loud White Out at Beaver Stadium – the 2005 season was full of great games. For Robinson, the best memory though was his final game, the 26-23 Orange Bowl win over Florida State.
“The last game I suited up – the 2006 Orange Bowl,” Robinson said. “We went into triple overtime and it gave us the opportunity to show that our coach was better than Bowden.”
After his career Penn State, Robinson was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers and was converted to a running back and eventually a fullback. He went on to make the Pro Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks and retired after winning Super Bowl XLVIII in his final NFL game. Currently, Michael Robinson works as an analyst on various programs for NFL Network.
While Robinson was a student, he liked to hang out at the HUB and was a fan of the now-closed Sports Café on West College Ave – which is now home to Noodles & Company – and his favorite food in Happy Valley was the grilled sticky buns from the Ye Olde College Diner. When he gets back to town these days for a game, he likes to go to Champs Sports Grill at 1611 N. Atherton St.