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Pat Goodwillie '96 - Penn Athletics Hall of Fame

Written by Dave Zeitlin C'03, this feature originally appeared on PennAthletics.com on April 11, 2017

Pat Goodwillie W’96 was never much of a vocal player, so former Penn football assistant coach Mike Toop was hardly surprised when the linebacker said only four words to him as the two emerged from the Franklin Field tunnel before a nationally hyped showdown vs. Princeton on Nov. 6, 1993.

But those four words remain etched in Toop’s memory to this day. 

“I’ve got him, Coach.”

Him was Keith Elias, the arrogant, Mohawked Princeton running back who had been running his mouth all week about the Quakers and even Penn’s admission standards. He came into the game averaging a whopping 183.7 yards per game—tops in the nation—and was ready to lead Princeton to its eighth straight victory to start the ’93 season.

But, true to his word, the soft-spoken and mild-mannered Goodwillie spearheaded a ferocious Penn defense that limited Elias to just 59 yards on 15 carries, rallying the Quakers to a thrilling 30-14 win that led to an Ivy League championship and the first of two straight undefeated seasons.

“That’s just who he was,” said Toop, who spent seven years as Penn’s defensive coordinator in the 90s and currently serves as the head football coach at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. “He was a man of few words but he let his pads do the talking. Guys like Pat are why I coach.

“I’ve been doing this for 40 years, and I haven’t had a player more special than Pat.” 

Goodwillie may have gotten fewer headlines than offensive stars like Elias, who went on to play in the NFL, and Penn running back Terrance Stokes C’95, who ran for a school-record 272 yards that day in front of more than 35,000 fans at Franklin Field.

But that was just fine with Goodwillie, who quietly enjoyed leading the Quakers to consecutive undefeated seasons in his junior and senior campaigns of 1993 and 1994, the first time a team went unbeaten in back-to-back years in Ivy League history.

And his coaches, teammates and peers certainly recognized the kind of impact the linebacker made—which is why he won the Bushnell Cup as the Ivy League Player of the Year as a senior and now, two decades later, enters the Penn Athletics Hall of Fame as part of the 2017 class.

“He was always the best player on the field,” said his former teammate Brian Higgins C’96. “And he was always such a calm player. He wasn’t a yeller. He wasn’t a screamer. He was just action.”

Being calm and level-headed certainly paid dividends early in Goodwillie’s college career. After picking Penn over Dartmouth, where his grandfather played, he had to deal with a coaching change between his freshman and sophomore seasons as Al Bagnoli took over for Gary Steele. But he took it completely in stride.

“I think it was a welcome change,” said Goodwillie, who met his wife at Penn and is now an options trader in Chicago. “Everyone was looking for a little something to spark a momentum shift in the other direction.”

There were other challenges for Goodwillie, who admits that it was “definitely a big adjustment coming from a public high school in the middle of nowhere in Michigan” as he tried to keep up with his Wharton classes. But everything always made sense on the field where he just had a knack for finding the ball.

He finished his career third on Penn’s all-time list for tackles with 310 despite just playing three years of varsity (freshmen had their own team then), and was a first-team All-America as a senior. 

“The great ones have an instinct,” said Toop, who arrived at Penn before Goodwillie’s sophomore year. “He just had a great feel for the game.”

“He was there before you thought he was going to be there,” added Higgins, a tight end who played against him in practice. “He just knew exactly where the ball was at all times.”

With Goodwillie beginning to emerge as a force, the Quakers showed some major signs of improvement in 1992, going 7-3 and 5-2 in the Ivies in Bagnoli’s first year. The season ended with two straight wins, including a memorable one at Cornell in the finale that included a key fake punt.

Little did Goodwillie know at the time that those two victories would kick off a 21-game winning streak to end his college career. But there certainly were some close calls along the way—particularly Penn’s Ivy opener at Dartmouth in 1994. 

With the Quakers leading by four in the final minute, Dartmouth had a 4th-and-inches from the 1 yard line and handed the ball to running back Pete Oberle. But with the game—and the streak—in serious jeopardy, Goodwillie came to the rescue.

“The hole just opened up,” Higgins recalled, “and it looked like he was going to walk right into the end zone. And then out of nowhere Pat just comes up in the hole and stuffs the kid cold.”

After the fourth-down stop, the Quakers took a safety and held on for a 13-11 win—their closest triumph in an otherwise dominating season that culminated with a thrashing of Harvard in Goodwillie’s final home game and Penn fans tearing down the goalposts and throwing them into the Schuylkill River.

“That was a key game for us,” Goodwillie said of the Dartmouth win. “Once we got past that, it was smoother sailing.”

Of course, nothing was better than Penn’s win over Princeton in 1993, which was billed on campus as “The Game of the Century.” And with outlets like the New York Times and Sports Illustrated on hand to chronicle the matchup of two 7-0 Ivy League powerhouses, Goodwillie enjoyed what would end up being his claim to fame, rattling Elias with at least one crunching tackle and even showing some rare displays of emotion.

“I think his quote after the game was that I had cement in my shoulder pads,” Goodwillie said. “I’ll take that as a backhanded compliment from Keith Elias.”

In his head, Toop can still see one of those huge tackles on Princeton’s loudmouth running back, who got the ball on a sweep before seeing Goodwillie out of the corner of his eye and slipping a little bit before going down.

“If he didn’t, I think Pat would have taken his head off,” Penn’s former defensive coordinator said. “He had great shock power for a linebacker. When he hit you, you went backwards. … I’ve never coached a better linebacker than him.”

Higgins, who remains very good friends with Goodwillie, agrees with that sentiment. And he’s still amazed at how he always made it look so easy.

“The guy’s playing linebacker, there’s a 300-pounder chugging at him and he’s pushing hair out of his eyes right before the play,” Higgins recalled with a laugh. “His whole demeanor was just so calm. But then the ball would get snapped and he was everywhere.

“He was just the best player on the field.”