UNIVERSITY PARK - With ''We Are the Champions'' blaring throughout Beaver Stadium, and many of the 109,845 still on hand celebrating the moment, the Nittany Lions left the field with roses clenched in their teeth.
It was a photo-op delight - one not duplicated here since the perfect season in 1994 - and a scene that matched Penn State's performance Saturday.
On a cold, raw day, the Lions saved their best game of 2008 for the regular-season finale as they crushed Michigan State, 49-18, and in the process finished 11-1 to emphatically punch their ticket to the Rose Bowl.
"Words can't describe how I feel," PSU senior safety Anthony Scirrotto said.
Penn State matched its emotion with its execution. It started Friday when Joe Paterno was moved to tears in a squad meeting.
"That was probably the most emotional I've ever seen Joe," defensive end Aaron Maybin said. "He did a great job of putting us in a position to accomplish the task at hand. It really motivated us."
"When we saw him that way, it really hit our hearts," Scirrotto said. "We love him like he's our father."
The Lions played accordingly on both sides of the ball.
Daryll Clark, his struggles of the past three games behind him, returned to his September form and was sensational.
The offense spread the wealth among all four of its top receivers - Deon Butler, Derrick Williams, Jordan Norwood and Graham Zug - with a combination that shellshocked the Spartans.
"We thought we were going to have to throw the football," JoePa said.
That opened up a running game that dished out some punishing blocks and created offensive balance.
"This game is a fitting end to our careers," senior receiver Deon Butler, unguardable with three touchdown receptions, said. "There was so much bottled in one game - Senior Day, this senior class, the chance to go to a BCS bowl. I think we played the way we were playing earlier in the season."
Not to be outdone, their defensive counterparts stuffed the Spartans' star back, Javon Ringer, and carried a 42-7 lead into the fourth quarter.
It helped that memories were fresh from the Lions' 24-7 blown lead that became a 35-31 Michigan State win last year in East Lansing.
"In the back of our craw, we knew we stunk the place out last year," defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said. "They wanted to get after it today, and I felt coming in we were ready to play."
So did Paterno, who in a rare burst of euphoria guaranteed a victory at a Rec Hall pep rally Friday night.
"Our team practiced really well, and they were on a mission," he said. "I felt we would play as well as we could play, and I felt we might be a little bit better than Michigan State. They didn't have a great game today, and that's a tribute to our defense."
Four years after university administrators pulled up to his home hoping to leave with the coach's retirement or exit strategy, Penn State has now 40 games and shared a pair of Big Ten titles.
"It's tough for teams to come into our stadium, especially with this much on the line," Scirrotto said. "It was all or nothing for us."
In the packed media room afterward, Paterno was all smiles. He praised his team, confirmed he'll have hip surgery this week (which was successfully completed Sunday), reiterated his plans to continue coaching and accepted the Rose Bowl invitation with one disclaimer:
"I don't know," he said, tongue-in-cheek. "I don't want pictures taken with me with roses"
The Nittany Lions and their coach, make no mistake, are alive and as well as ever.
Neil Rudel can be reached at (814) 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.