Jordan Norwood, a softspoken man with a humble demeanor, has meant a lot to the community for a long time. He hasn’t just been one of State College’s favorite sons — in some respects, he’s been its favorite underdog.
He came into State High as a junior, defied the odds and helped lead it to its first-ever state basketball championship. He surprised fans again when he made it to Penn State — and shocked them even more when he reached No. 3 in career receptions. (He’s now at No. 6.) And then he amazed a national TV audience in the Super Bowl, when the undrafted player broke a record by returning a punt 61 yards for a touchdown.
Norwood’s playing career came to an end over the weekend. But he leaves behind a rich legacy, one that locals and football fans around the country won’t soon forget.
This is a look back on that career, from the very beginning:
March 22, 2003
PIAA Class 4A boys’ basketball championship: Historic comeback
Little Lions fans broke out signs after the final buzzer sounded in overtime: “2003 STATE CHAMPIONS.” State College won 76-71 on 33 points from Willie Morse and 12 for defensive specialist Jordan Norwood — after Norwood and Co. rallied from a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit.
The CDT’s Todd Ceisner wrote, a month earlier, “A 5-foot, 8-inch junior, Norwood could pass for a ball boy on most teams, but he has swiftly become the quiet pilot of the Little Lions.”
“Confidence-wise, he’s easily the hardest person to rattle and if you do rattle him, you’d never know it,” said Gabe Norwood, Jordan’s elder brother by one year. “He’s just a very calm person and he’s very under control which is why I think he’s a good point guard.”
Nov. 14, 2003
PIAA Class 4A District 6 football championship: Memorable performance
Two interceptions and a receiving touchdown by Jordan Norwood helped change the face of the game in the 24-7 win over Altoona.
Not bad for a player coming off a broken thumb who still couldn’t grip the football.
QB Kevin Suhey hit Norwood on a 13-yard slant to score the game’s first touchdown. And, on the next drive, Norwood — a senior — made his first interception to set up a 19-yard field goal.
“The kids played with a lot of heart and character and that speaks to our senior leadership,” State College coach Dave Lintal said, after his team’s first district title since 1998.
Nov. 22, 2003
PIAA Class 4A football quarterfinals: ‘Awesome game’
Jordan Norwood played like a man possessed in the 28-14 win over Erie Cathedral Prep.
Not only did he record three first-half touchdowns, but he also came away with an interception. On one play, Norwood caught the ball in the flat and then wiggled his hips to elude the cornerback for a 65-yard score. It was maybe his best-ever high school performance — and he still played it down after the game.
“I guess everybody has their night,” Norwood said.
Said State College coach Dave Lintal: “He had an awesome game tonight. What a great performance.”
Feb. 27, 2004
PIAA Class 4A District 6 boys’ basketball championship: ‘One of the best’
In what was the most important game to that point in the season, Jordan Norwood had one of his best games in the 59-46 victory over Hollidaysburg.
He turned in a season-high 20 points — including a trio of 3-pointers and plenty of pesky play on defense — to lead his team to victory. That wasn’t lost on the head basketball coach.
“I do think high school basketball is all about guard play and I do think he is one of the best point guards in the state,” State College coach Drew Frank said. “That’s not his demeanor, that’s not his personality. He’s been getting stronger in the second half of the season and we’ve really needed his play at both ends of the floor.”
April 14, 2004
Football: Heading to Penn State
The two-sport athlete wasn’t always a lock to play football at the next level but, he told the Centre Daily Times, Joe Paterno approached him in February about playing for the Nittany Lions. And he told the CDT on April 14 that he planned to sign a letter of intent.
He would grayshirt for one season and then be on full scholarship. His father, Brian, was an assistant coach.
“Everybody sees me as a basketball player. Even my mom sees me as a basketball player,” the 165-pound Norwood said. “I personally feel that I’m better at football.”
He was an Allegheny Football Conference all-star as a defensive back/wide receiver. Despite the thumb injury, he still heavily contributed on defense — but Penn State saw potential as a receiver. He was also recruited by William & Mary as a receiver and St. Francis as a basketball player. Bucknell was also under consideration.
“He’s such a great athlete with whatever he does,” said former State College football coach Dave Lintal said. “He’s just so smooth. He’s a kid you can always count on, a great leader by example. He’s so unassuming. He’s a great competitor in his own quiet way and you can see in him how he rises to the challenge of the opponent whether it’s on the football field or on the basketball court. He loves that and thrives on the competition.”
April 24, 2005
Blue-White Game: Norwood making impression
After grayshirting — essentially waiting, sans scholarship, to become a full-time student — Norwood made an immediate impact despite weighing just a few pounds more than 164-pound kicker Kevin Kelly.
During the annual scrimmage, Norwood finished with one catch for three yards, two carries for 11 yards and broke up an interception. But Paterno brought him up unprompted before the game.
“I’m pleased with a couple other kids that have not gotten much attention,” Paterno said. “The young Norwood kid we kept out, we grayshirted, has done well.”
Sept. 24, 2005
Regular season: Breaking out
In the previous two games, Norwood’s first ever collegiate action, Norwood had eight and 17 yards, respectively.
The 34-29 road win over Northwestern proved to be a big step forward.
The young receiver finished with a game-high 83 yards on a game-high five receptions. Suddenly, he was vaulted into the conversations about the young receivers. The New York Times mentioned him a week later, talking about him along with more highly touted teammates like Derrick Williams and Deon Butler.
Jan. 3, 2006
Orange Bowl: Season best
Just like his high school career, Jordan Norwood saved his best performance for last in the 26-23 triple-overtime win against Florida State.
In the finale, Norwood hauled in a season-best six catches for a game-high 110 yards to account for 43 percent of Michael Robinson’s passing yards. Kevin Kelly nailed the game-winner in triple-overtime.
“It’s almost past my bedtime,” Paterno joked afterward.
Norwood finished the year with 32 catches for 422 yards.
Jan. 8, 2007
Men’s basketball: Norwood joins PSU team
Jordan Norwood wanted to try his hand at basketball, and Joe Paterno signed off with it. So Norwood joined coach Ed DeChellis’ team on Monday. But it wasn’t yet on a permanent basis.
“It’s really just a learning experience for him now,” DeChellis said. “We tried to get him out there when we could and have him guard and do some things just to get him in the flow. ... It’s not set in stone that he’s on the team or anything like that.”
Norwood went on to play in four games for seven total minutes that season. But he did not return to the team.
“Jordan is very explosive, quick and athletic and a very good defender,” DeChellis said.
Sept. 7, 2008
Regular season: ‘Stealing the limelight’
This, a 45-14 win over Oregon State, was a special game.
Not only did Jordan Norwood set what was then a career high with 116 yards on eight catches. But he also passed O.J. McDuffie on the career receiving charts by moving up to No. 3 on the career receptions list. It just so happens that McDuffie was at the game — and caught up with Norwood afterward.
“It’s great for him to say congrats to me,” Norwood said. “He’s somebody that I really look up to for what he’s done here at Penn State and in the NFL.”
CDT’s Vinny Pezzimenti wrote that, “Norwood is stealing the limelight from (Derrick) Williams and (Deon) Butler.” The next week, against Syracuse, Norwood had 113 receiving yards.
Nov. 22, 2008
Senior Day: Saying goodbye
In Jordan Norwood’s final appearance as a player inside Beaver Stadium, he gave fans a performance to remember during a 49-18 romp over No. 17 Michigan State.
He finished with a career-high 127 receiving yards, and he set up the Nittany Lions’ first touchdown on a 49-yard catch. The win set up a Rose Bowl berth.
Deon Butler had three TDs, and Derrick Williams did a little of everything.
“It just kind of sums up our careers here,” Norwood said. “It’s something you can’t complain about.”
Norwood would finish his career with 158 catches for 2,015 yards. He was an honorable mention on the 2008 All-Big Ten team.
Sept. 11, 2011
NFL: First career catch
The local wideout went undrafted in 2009. He was picked up by the Cleveland Browns, waived, signed to the Philadelphia Eages’ practice squad and played in one game, waived and then signed back with the Browns.
But, in 2011, he started making a name for himself.
He earned a reputation in camp as a shifty slot receiver and, in the season opener against Cincinnati, he had one catch for six yards. It wasn’t much — but it was a start.
“I’ve always liked Jordan,” receivers coach Mike Wilson said. “Jordan has always been a very good athlete, good feet, very nifty, shifty, on the smaller side. But he’s really a real good route runner, and he knows how to get open.”
Nov. 27, 2011
NFL: Generating some hype
Jordan Norwood’s time on the field increased as the season went on. In Week 7, he made five catches for 32 yards. On Nov. 20, he had a 51-yard reception. And, on Nov. 27 against Cincinnati, he finished with four receptions for 69 yards and his first NFL touchdown.
By late November, the local media started writing about Norwood. He was impossible to ignore and always remained humble. “I wish I could have run for a few more yards,” he told Ohio.com one night.
His teammates were a bit more talkative.
“Always seen, never heard, a quiet guy who does his job,” Browns defensive back Sheldon Brown said. “Very patient, smart, never see him make mistakes, does all the little things the right way on and off the field. We’ve always wondered when he’d get his chance.”
He finished the season with 23 catches for 268 yards and a score. He played in 14 games and started four; the Browns finished 4-12.
Down but not out
Jordan Norwood still played in 10 games in the 2012 season and 13 catches for 137 yards — but, after that, he was waived on Aug. 25, 2013. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers picked him up three days later but released him on Dec. 31.
The Denver Broncos decided to take a chance on him during the 2014 offseason but then placed him on injured reserve in August after tearing his ACL.
It was the next season, after recovering and not giving up, where Norwood would make his biggest impact.
Feb. 8, 2015
Super Bowl record, ring
If there’s one play defines Jordan Norwood’s career, it’s this one.
In Super Bowl 50 — at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. — Norwood eschewed a fair catch right around his own 25-yard line early in the second quarter. He took off to the right side after the punt, watched one blocker take out a would-be tackler and then turned upfield before getting brought down from behind. The result: a 61-yard punt return, a new Super Bowl record.
The return set up a Broncos field goal. Denver would go on to win 24-10, and Norwood would earn himself a Super Bowl ring.
“It was a short punt,” Norwood said. “I saw the gunner on my left, and I just made the decision right then and there I’ll catch it, and if I get tackled, I get tackled.
“I think they might have thought I fair-caught it.”
Sept. 9, 2017
He tweeted a link to a lengthy essay on “what a blessing it was” to play in the NFL for eight years, and it took the Twitterverse a few days to catch on to just what had happened.
But it was official. The underdog story of Norwood had come to an end.
After making history in high school, college and the NFL, Norwood was finished. But it’s a career that will most certainly never be forgotten — especially in Centre County.