SAN ANTONIO - Those comments about their 81-year-old coach being on his "deathbed" were insulting enough. But the other team doing the hula at a pregame function . . . well, that was too much.
It's one thing for a student yell leader to make a bad joke about Joe Paterno being in need of a casket, but Penn State's players really got their backs up when their Texas A & M counterparts performed a choreographed musical routine later that same evening at a private function attended by both teams.
All that was missing were the cameo fatigues worn by the Miami Hurricanes upon their arrival for the Jan. 2, 1987, Fiesta Bowl, the most glaring example of an opponent trying to poke fun at the Nittany Lions' straight-laced image. And, no, that little ploy didn't work, either.
Attempting to goad a Paterno-coached team with combat attire or a perceived Polynesian taunt might seem like fun, but it seldom translates to success where it counts, between the lines.
"I'd rather be watching film than working on a dance before the game," Penn State linebacker Sean Lee, who was voted defensive player of the game, said after the Lions came from two touchdowns behind to beat the Aggies, 24-17, Saturday night in the Alamo Bowl.
"They did something with a little hula dance at the [Thursday] dinner," said backup quarterback Darryl Clark, who saw his most significant playing time of the season, rushing six times for 50 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown. "They did a lot of chirping there, and out on the streets, too.
"What they did was very disrespectful toward us, particularly our coach. But trash-talking is not the Penn State way. We let them have their fun at the dinner. We just sat there. But we were thinking, 'We'll see you on the field on Saturday.' "
For those who care to dwell on specifics, this most recent Penn State bowl celebration - Paterno is now 23-10-1 in such games, and 10-3 in his last 13 - hinged on a pair of fourth-down plays, one in the second quarter and another in the final period.
Anthony Morelli's 30-yard scoring strike to a diving Deon Butler, on fourth-and-4, halved the Aggies' 14-0 lead, and A & M quarterback Stephen McGee's 4-yard loss on a fourth-and-1 play at the Penn State 2-yard line preserved the final seven-point cushion.
Both momentum-shifting plays underscored the extent to which the Penn State coaching staff had prepared for every on-field contingency, but there is more to football than X's and O's.
There also is emotion, which is no less real when it runs deep and on the inside. While the Aggies (7-6) wore their feelings on their sleeves, the Lions (9-4) kept theirs bottled up, to be released in a controlled manner and at the appropriate times.
"In the end, all that matters is whether you win or lose," Lee said. "We did our celebrating when the game was over."
For his part, Paterno insisted he was not offended by the yell leader's ill-advised attempt at humor, writing it off as nothing more than a youthful indiscretion.
"I never even brought it up [to the team]," he said.
Then again, he didn't have to.
"That bugged us," Morelli, whose 143 passing yards in his final college game left him 29 short of Kerry Collins' single-season school record of 2,679, said of the yell leader's joke that, well, died. "You can't say something like that about Joe Paterno. He's the best coach ever in college football."
Maybe JoePa is, maybe he isn't, but his record in bowl games certainly suggests that his teams don't show up in the postseason merely to see the sights and do the tourist bit.
Before an Alamo Bowl-record crowd of 66,166 - a noisy majority of whom were clad in A & M maroon - the Lions quickly fell behind by two touchdowns as tailback Mike Goodson scored on runs of 1 and 16 yards within a span of 12 seconds, the second TD coming one play after A.J. Wallace fumbled on a kickoff return.
The turnaround began when Paterno - who was coaching his 500th game with the Lions - eschewed a possible 47-yard field goal attempt by Kevin Kelly for what turned out to be Morelli's bomb to Butler.
"It's a read by both the receiver and the quarterback," offensive coordinator Galen Hall said. "If the corner [Ankeith Brown] comes up, we adjust the route. If he lays off, we thought we'd hit it for 5 or 6 [yards], get the first down and keep going. But they happened to press. I'm very pleased with the way [Morelli and Butler] executed it."
Hall's secret weapon, though, was Clark, who had carried the ball six times for 28 yards all season. His 11-yard keeper up the middle made it 14-all in the second quarter, but only after officials determined that his fumble into the end zone occurred a nanosecond after the ball had broken the plane of the goal line.
"When [the defender] went low, I thought maybe I could jump over him," the 6-2, 232-pound Clark said. "The next time, in a situation like that, I'll just lower the boom."
Perhaps Texas A & M should have lowered the boom with short-yardage touchdown machine Jorvorskie Lane, the 270-pound-plus scorer of 17 touchdowns this season, after the Aggies had marched from their own 1-yard line to the Penn State 2 in the fourth quarter. But Lane wasn't even in the game, and McGee's attempt to run an option right resulted in the 4-yard loss when he tripped, in no small part because of pressure from linebacker Bani Gbadyu.
"They came out in a set we were unprepared for," McGee said. "They just flowed really hard after the snap. Their backers ID'ed the play."
It was the same play on which Goodson had scored his second touchdown. With Lane not even on the field, the Lions were guessing option all the way.
As was often the case this night, they guessed right.
Senior tailback Rodney Kinlaw was voted offensive player of the game after he rushed 21 times for a game-high 143 yards, but it was his backup, freshman Evan Royster, who snapped a 17-17 deadlock with a 38-yard TD burst up the middle late in the third quarter . . . Kevin Kelly's 25-yard field goal with 19 seconds remaining in the first half not only gave the Lions a 17-14 lead at intermission, it marked the 20th consecutive game in which the junior from Neshaminy High had kicked at least one field goal . . . Center A.Q. Shipley had his first career reception when he grabbed Anthony Morelli's deflected pass for a 4-yard gain in the second quarter. *