STATE COLLEGE — Saturday was Military Appreciation Day at Beaver Stadium. Cornerback Amani Oruwariye led Penn State on the field carrying an American flag belonging to his mother, Navy Commander Karen Oruwariye.
Fans bought more than 6,400 tickets for military members and veterans through the “Seats for Servicemembers” program.
The honorary captain was Rick Slater, a former Penn State player and U.S. Navy SEAL.
Slater has a place in Penn State lore for his role in the football program’s healing after the Sandusky scandal NCAA sanctions.
When the sanctions hit in July 2012, Penn State players had the choice to stay or transfer out and play immediately elsewhere.
A few, notably running back Silas Redd, did leave.
Bill O’Brien, then the Nittany Lions’ first-year coach, invited Slater to speak to the team. Slater had been part of Navy SEAL Team Six, which killed Osama Bin Laden.
He told the team that being a Penn State walk-on was a greater honor than being a SEAL. Then he removed a blue belt from his cargo shorts.
“This belt, I pulled from my pants after my last game at Penn State,” he said, according to John Bacon’s book, “Fourth and Long: The Fight for the Soul of College Football.”
“And this is what I wore when we went on our mission against Bin Laden.”
He had the players’ attention.
Slater then told a story of a SEAL mission in Pakistan had failed after a helicopter crash. The SEALS called back to base camp for orders on how to proceed.
The answer was, “Charlie Mike.”
“For us,” Slater said, “That means, ‘Continue Mission.’ … So we did.”
The message was clear, and the players erupted.
This was a weird game, typifying a season of weirdness. A few examples:
— In the first half, Iowa started six drives at its own 31-yard line or better and scored one touchdown, when its punter threw a TD pass to a defensive lineman on a fake field goal.
— Incredibly, Penn State has had the lead in the fourth quarter of 31 straight games.
— One three Penn State players, Trace McSorley, Miles Sanders and Tommy Stevens, ran the ball from scrimmage. Although nine Penn State wideouts played, only three caught passes.
Iowa had 14 players run or catch the ball.
— The teams combined for 13 possessions that netted five yards or less.