When was the best area football season — at all three levels?
Pittsburgh Steelers fans around here are sure to disagree.
It does pose a good question — what was the greatest area football season ever around here?
You’d want the NFL team to win the Super Bowl, if not at least get there. A refreshing run to the conference championship game isn’t bad, either. And since the Eagles don’t have any rings (yet), we’ve got to ease the standards a bit.
Combine that with other teams people around here root for. Penn State is long the top college football team in the area, and some of those unbeaten seasons and championships have coincided with big years in Pittsburgh or Philadelphia. Add in a good year from your favorite local high school team, and that’s about as good as it can get.
So where does 2017 rank in that regard? Maybe not that high, unless the Eagles do in fact win Sunday. Penn State went 11-2, very good but not great, and a bit of a letdown with losses to Ohio State and Michigan before winning the Fiesta Bowl and finishing No. 8.
No local high school team won a game in the PIAA playoffs, though Loyalsock rallied to win the District 4 Class AAA title, and Williamsport finished with consecutive winning seasons for the first time in 15 years.
You will not see 2004, the last Eagles Super Bowl trip, in this list. That year just one local team, high school or college, finished with a winning record. It was Montoursville, and it went 6-5. You can look it up.
But here are the top five local winning combination seasons in area history:
The list starts with the last of the Steelers’ six Super Bowl titles, most all-time, when Ben Roethlisberger hit Santonio Holmes for the game-winner to beat Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII. Penn State had a decent year led by Daryll Clark, going to the Rose Bowl as Big Ten co-champs. But the Nittany Lions lost that one, 38-24 to Mark Sanchez and USC and finished 11-2 and No. 8. A 24-23 loss at Iowa in midseason likely kept the team from the BCS title game. Montoursville led the area high schools, going 10-2 and ending with a 35-21 loss at Mount Carmel in the District 4 AA final.
Give the Eagles credit here for reaching Super Bowl XV, though they were shut down by the Oakland Raiders in New Orleans, 27-10. It marked the high point of the Dick Vermeil-Ron Jaworski era. Just like 2017, this Eagles Super Bowl appearance was preceded by Penn State winning the Fiesta Bowl and finishing No. 8. However, that game was not quite a major bowl at that point, as the Lions’ 31-19 win over Ohio State came the day after Christmas. In high schools, Montoursville closed the regular season with a 13-3 win over Loyalsock to claim the Battle of the Bridge and head-to-head rights in the West Branch Class A division. Warrior Run went 9-2 to win the Class B division.
There are no Super Bowls here, but the Steelers did return to the AFC title game for the first time in a decade. However, they lost, 17-13 at Three Rivers to the Chargers. They’d get back to the Super Bowl the next season, but have to wait awhile before winning it again. Penn State had one of its most memorable seasons ever as Kerry Collins, Ki-Jana Carter and the rest went 12-0 and won the Rose Bowl but settled for No. 2 behind Nebraska because of the Big Ten’s bowl tie-in. There were a couple high school seasons of note. The old Lock Haven High School went 8-3, capturing its fourth consecutive District 6 AAA title before falling in the quarterfinals to eventual PIAA finalist Sharon. And Williamsport went 11-1, falling to District 3 champion Cumberland Valley, 12-10, in the PIAAs. The Millionaires that year gave eventual PIAA Class AA champ Mount Carmel its only loss in midseason.
Pittsburgh won its third Super Bowl, 35-31 over Dallas in XIII. It was their third and at the time a record, one more than Dallas, Miami, and Green Bay. Joe Paterno finally played for a national title after three unbeaten and untied seasons earlier in his career. But the Nittany Lions’ 14-7 loss to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl became his toughest defeat. Neither of Penn State’s national titles, in 1982 or 1986, saw memorable seasons out of the Steelers or Eagles. The 1978 high school season saw Montoursville finish 11-0, its first 11-0 season in school history. However, it predated the PIAA playoff format so a West Branch championship was all it could be.
The black and gold standard, if you will. Pittsburgh tied San Francisco with five rings in a 21-10 win over Seattle in Bill Cowher’s finale at Super Bowl XL. Penn State didn’t win the national title or even play for it, but an 11-1 finish and No. 3 ranking after winning the Orange Bowl were plenty good enough after four losing seasons in five years to start the 2000s. Whether that infamous midseason loss at Michigan actually cost the Lions a shot to pass either unbeaten defending champion USC or computer favorite Texas remains up for debate. And while Montoursville lost in midseason by one to Selinsgrove on a missed extra point, it benefitted from having a modern playoff system to sell itself. The Warriors shut out Towanda, 35-0, for the District 4 AA title and beat Lancaster Catholic before falling 33-32 to Wilson Area in the PIAA semis. No area high school team has advanced deeper since.
Note: The original version of this story did not have winning a District 4 title in 2017.