Penn State

Roosevelt Grier
(Authentic Reproduction)



At 6'5" and a bit less than the 284 pounds he spent his pro career at, Rosey Grier was a huge man for his era yet agile as a cat, quick and explosive enough to excel in both the discus and shotput for Penn State. Born in Georgia, Grier grew up in Roselle Park, N.J. and was recruited out of  Abraham Clark H.S. Eligible as a freshman due to Korean War manpower shortage rules, he didn't play much but afterwards was a dominating force on both sides of the line. Considered to be inconsistent at times, Coach Rip Engle noted that Grier "was at his best against the good ones." Against a nationally noted Pitt team, he took over the 1952 game for an unexpected Lion win. In Penn State's opening day upset over number one ranked Illinois in 1954, it was Grier who controlled both sides of the line of scrimmage. An intelligent and sensitive individual, he did not need a "killer instinct" to excel, relying on strength, coordination, speed, and technique to dominate opponents. Grier was named only Third Team All American and perhaps a number of reasons clearly give an explanation. Eastern football in general, and Penn State football was not highly regarded in the South and Southwest although the Big Ten teams that faced Penn State knew otherwise. The regional prejudice was augmented by a racial bias with the belief that there was a quota system in place for the number of African-Americans named to the consensus All American team. Penn State's schedule was such that they played some schedules that included nationally-ranked powers while other years were spent banging heads against  too many Boston University and Rutgers-type of teams, thus prejudicing some voters. Grier certainly played at an All American level while excelling in the field events and became the third round draft choice of the N.Y. Giants. He was part of a dominating Giant defense that won the world championship, spent a year out of football satisfying his military obligations as a drill sergeant based in Alabama, then returned to the Giants to continue a great pro career. Traded to the Rams in 1963, he was part of the storied Fearsome Foursome defense with tackle Merlin Olsen and ends Lamar Lundy and Deacon Jones. Grier retired after the 1966 season and remained in the public spotlight as a community activist, religious leader, and show business personality who was the first ex-pro football player to star in a network television series. Displaying his sensitive side, he recorded numerous songs and became an expert and sought-after speaker on needlepoint and knitting. Best known by a younger generation as the bodyguard for Senator Robert Kennedy when assassinated in 1968, Grier was first and foremost, a great football player.
1955 was expected to be a bit of a down year as Penn State featured one of the lightest lines in major college football which may not have been enough to open holes for Lenny Moore or protect QB Milt Plum. The 5-4 record proved the truth of this prediction although Moore battled Jim Brown in an unexpected 21-10 Penn State upset over Syracuse. Brown won the rushing battle with 159 yards on 20 carries to Moore's 146 yards on 22 carries but the Lions carried the day. Moore's performance was considered his career best at Penn State as he inspired his teammates to the upset. The 6-2-1 record of 1956 featured a huge win over undefeated and cocky Ohio State as mammoth All American Jim Parker was handled by the smaller Penn State line, one that included "Bad Rad" Dan Radakovich who would later gain the reputation as one of the NFL's best known offensive line coaches, and the punting and passing of QB Plum proved decisive. The four TD underdogs made a mark for Eastern football once again with their 7-6 win.

With a tally of forty-nine consecutive non-losing seasons between 1939 to 1987, Penn State football was always good, always consistent, and always highly respected in the East. Unfortunately, Eastern football was not highly respected in other parts of the country, seen as a diversion for the effete, rather than the essential fabric of college life the game was believed to be in the South or Midwest. Under long-time coach and former Penn State All American Bob Higgins, the Nittany Lions were a consistent winner and his 1947 team was considered one of the East Coast's all time best. Undefeated and untied, they traveled to the Cotton Bowl and tied a Doak Walker-led SMU squad that was also undefeated and a national powerhouse. Steve Suhey was an All American guard who would begin a family pipeline that would later bring additional glory to the mountain campus. With a core group of WW II veterans returning for 1948, Higgins' expectations were high but a tie against Michigan State and an unexpected loss to Pitt that resulted in a 7-1-1 record did not soothe Higgins' distress at his perceived failure. Combined with failing health, the successful Higgins retired and the baton was to be passed to either long time assistant line coach Joe Bedenk or assistant Earle Edwards for '49. Even with Edwards' departure the year was marred by staff discord and the disadvantage of not having available football scholarships. After a 4-5 finish Bedenk requested a return to his line coaching position and a search began for a new head coach. Assistant coach Earl Bruce served as interim head coach for spring practice until Brown University's Charles "Rip" Engle was hired and brought with him, his former quarterback to install the new Wing T formation. With assistant coach Joe Paterno on board, Engle quelled the staff dissent, installed the new offense, and launched a sixteen year head coaching stint that would produce a winning percentage of .679. The 1950 team moved into the modern era with the new offensive formation and the introduction of the Riddell RT white helmets with navy blue one-inch center stripe, leaving behind the Single Wing and white leather headgear of the past. Engle posted a 5-3-1 record for 1950, admirable as he was forced to keep the entire existing staff with Paterno the only addition, and had no backlog of scholarship players. In 1950 the administration agreed to allow a limited number of scholarship football players to participate and Engle began building his dynasty. The timing was right as the glut of GI players were finished with their eligibility and the game was returning to "the kids." Vince O'Bara proved a decent T Formation QB and Tony Orsini made the switch to wingback and led the team in rushing. Engle's 1951 5-4 record marked the arrival of lineman Roosevelt Grier although his playing time was limited as he learned the college-level game. RB Bob Pollard's 248 yards gained against Rutgers was the season highlight and end Jesse Arnell at 6'5" showed great promise for the future. The 7-2-1 record of 1952 was highlighted by a 17-0 victory over a nationally ranked Pitt team and a 20-20 tie with Purdue that featured a passing duel between the Boilers' Dale Samuels and the Lions Tony Rados. Rosey Grier blocked and carried a 240 pound Purdue lineman into the end zone from the five yard line which allowed the running back to walk in for the tying score. Lenny Moore and Rosey Grier: that is the summary of the 1953 season that ended with a 6-3 record as Moore tallied over 600 yards and showed great ability to both accelerate and change direction. Grier overpowered opponents but more importantly, became a true team leader. 1954 proved to be important as Penn State and Eastern football made a mark that put both on the national map. With Rados gone, Moore would be the entire attack as the Lions approached the opener at number one ranked Illinois who featured future pro greats J.C. Caroline and Abe Woodson. Supposedly without a chance to win and 17 point underdogs, the Nittany Lions surprised the 54,000 fans and all of the experts behind Moore's 137 rushing yards and his fourth quarter interception to complete what may have been the biggest upset of the '54 season, 14-12. Grier was a terror at tackle on both sides of the ball. Moore, "The Reading Rocket", continued his opening day heroics to the tune of 1082 yards and the 7-2 record included another win over Pitt. 

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