It’d be tough to argue that anyone knows Penn State football better than Lou Prato.
Prato — the author of seven books, including “The Penn State Football Encyclopedia” — was the first director of the All-Sports Museum. A member of the Class of 1959, Prato has witnessed Penn State football from Rip Engle to James Franklin.
So, for this week’s edition of “5 Questions,” we’re switching it up a bit. Instead of talking to a former Nittany Lion, we’re catching up with the guy who has dedicated his life to chronicling every aspect of the program.
Prato discussed his No. 1 Penn State player of all-time, favorite bowl game, most underappreciated Nittany Lion of the last decade and more.
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Q: If you had to pick one Penn State player in the modern era — let’s say the last 20 or so years — to build a team around, who would it be and why?
A: You have to pick a quarterback. I mean, look at the Cleveland Browns. Look at the pros. Who were the quarterbacks over the last 20 or so years? You pick the most successful one. Now, keep in mind, that you have to have the success of the quarterback, but also the entire team. A good example is Kerry Collins. He was a great quarterback, but until he found himself, really in the ’93 season, the team sort of stumbled. When he did find himself and became so great, he (also) had a great offensive line. So, if you go to (Trace) McSorley or (Christian) Hackenberg or anyone else in the last 20 years, that’s who you’d start a team with.
Q: Who in your mind is the most underappreciated Penn State player of the last decade?
A: I have one player I’ll name, but I also think there’s a team more than anything else. I don’t think people really appreciate all the members of that 2012 team. They appreciate (Michael) Mauti, (Matt) McGloin and the team leaders. But that entire team, I don’t think people really appreciate what they did. They appreciate it, but now that we’ve got the success, they’re sort of getting lost in the midst of it so to speak. People will look back, and history isn’t written today. You look back at history 20 or 30 years from now, and it changes. A historian 30 or 40 years from now will look back at the Penn State football program, and they’re going to really put that 2012 team with the undefeated teams and the national championship teams and think about them a lot more. As for one person and one player, I think Hackenberg might be the least appreciated now because of the success McSorley’s had and the bad time Hackenberg had his final year. He seemed to regress. But was that his fault? Or was that other people’s fault? I do hear fans now saying, ‘Oh, Hackenberg. He wasn’t that good.’ No, no. He’s having a tough time in the pros, but he was great his freshman year. He regressed, but I think people should appreciate Hackenberg a lot more than they do now.
Q: You’ve seen your fair share of Penn State games in person over the years, dating back to your years as a student. So, we’ll narrow it down to bowl games. Excluding the national championships, favorite bowl game you’ve seen live?
A: My favorite goes back to when I was covering the team for a TV station part-time in Pittsburgh. It was the 1968 team in the 1969 Orange Bowl. That famous 15-14 game with the extra man on the field for Kansas at the end of the game. That’s featured in the museum because of what it did. That game put Joe Paterno’s team on the map. Coming from behind to win that game, that was an exciting game. It was as exciting as you could find. It’s been surpassed by a lot of last-minute wins Penn State’s had, particularly in recent years. But that’s my favorite game.
Q: This one might be difficult, but try to pick three out of these five linebackers: Sean Lee, Jack Ham, LaVar Arrington, Shane Conlan, Paul Posluszny.
A: How could you pick three out of those five? I mean, c’mon. Give me a break (laughs). If you go through that list, the most underrated out of the bunch was Sean Lee. He never made first-team All-American. You talk about underappreciated players, I mean, look what he’s done in the pros. He’s Mr. Dallas Cowboys right now despite all his injuries and what he’s overcome. He’s a classy guy, too. ... But of those linebackers, Ham is in the hall of fame. Conlan’s in the hall of fame. LaVar is probably heading there. You can’t go wrong with all five of those. It’s fun for fans to pick their own favorites, but let’s say it’s a tie for all five.
Q: This final one is more of an open forum than a question. I know we’ve talked in the past about this, about running back Lenny Moore. Not too many people may know about him. I’m giving you the floor in explaining why he’s your No. 1 guy.
A: Lenny Moore is my No. 1 guy because he played offense, defense, ran back kickoffs, punts. He did everything. He was a great defensive player. It was a different type of game back then (Moore played from 1953-55). He became a great pass-catcher in the pros because the Baltimore Colts passed; Penn State didn’t use him in the passing game. He was a great defensive player in the great Jim Brown games against Syracuse. In the 1955 game, he saved a touchdown when Brown was returning a kickoff. A lot of people nowadays say that Saquon Barkley is their No. 1. Well, Barkley might’ve been great if he played defense, too. Like I said, it’s a different game. People who pick Barkley can’t go wrong. ... But if you’re going to pick one player, and your life depends on the name of one player, it would be Lenny Moore.