Saturday afternoon the 11th ranked Penn State football team will play the unranked Michigan football team in Ann Arbor. The game will be broadcast on ESPN/ABC. This will only be the 15th meeting between these two traditional college football powers. Michigan holds a 10-4 series advantage. Penn State won last year 46-17. Here are some other things you should know about our guests from central Pennsylvania.
History: The institution now known as Penn State originally started out as a “high school”. It was founded in 1855 under the name Farmers' High School of Pennsylvania. Like many new schools outside of major cities, the place was created to teach the scientific methods of farming. When the 1862 version of the Morrill Act was passed, the school took the Land Grant money for Pennsylvania and changed the name to The Agricultural College of Pennsylvania.
Like many of the original Land Grant schools, the internal struggle for the educational mission of the school created tension and division. As the curriculum drifted between the purely agricultural and the more profitable classical, public confidence fell and the student enrollment went with it. By 1875 there were only 64 undergraduates were enrolled. Eventually they righted the ship, renamed themselves again to Pennsylvania State College, and grew to the largest non-governmental economic engine in the state of Pennsylvania. The school now annually generates more than $8 billion in direct economic impact to the Commonwealth and supports more than 60,000 total jobs.
Location: The main campus is located in State College, Pennsylvania, though the mailing address is actually University Park, Pennsylvania. The area is commonly referred to as Happy Valley.
If you are confused, join the club.
In 1953, when the institution went from being a college to a university, Penn State President Milton S. Eisenhower wanted the town to also change its name. However the locals refused. Not to be dissuaded, Eisenhower asked his older brother Dwight (who just happened to be the US president) give the university its own post office and zip code and named it University Park.
Whatever you want to call the place; the people I know that went to school there love the campus and are very proud of their school. The most famous building on campus is called Old Main, and it serves as the administrative center of the school, housing the offices of the president and other officials.
They also have their own ice cream factory on campus called the Berkey Creamery. PSU’s Department of Food Science runs the largest university creamery in the United States, using about 4.5 million pounds of milk annually, around half of which comes from a 225-cow herd at the University's Dairy Production Research Center. They offer over 100 flavors and sell 750,000 hand-dipped ice cream cones per year.
Nickname: They call themselves the Nittany Lions. The name is derived from the mountain lions that roamed the area for thousands of years before they were all killed by local citizens in the 1880s. Penn State claims to be the first university to choose a Lion as their mascot after one of their baseball players (Joe Mason) went to a game at Princeton in 1904. He was jealous of the Tiger moniker used by Princeton and somehow convinced everyone to adopt “Lions” in 1907 without a vote or contest. The origin of the word "Nittany" is a little more obscure. The most commonly accepted explanation traces its derivation to Indian words meaning either "single mountain" or "protective barrier against the elements”.
Mascot: In the 1920s, a pair of stuffed mountain lions was placed in the Recreation Building to watch over athletic events. About that same time, the tradition began of having a student dressed in a furry lion costume clown around on the sidelines at football games.
It appears that that costume from the 1940 is still in use today. It looks like it has been on the sidelines longer that Joe Paterno himself. Quite frankly, the Penn State Lion costume sucks and is embarassing for a traditional football power like Penn State.
In contrast to the stupid middle school quality mascot, Penn State has a dignified mountain lion statue in the place they call “Lion Shrine” on campus. The Class of 1940 gave their alma mater $5,430 to pay for the construction of the shrine located between the Recreation Building and Beaver Field. German sculptor Heinze Warnecke carved the lion on site in the summer of 1942, from a thirteen-ton block of limestone. He finished just in time for it to be dedicated at homecoming ceremonies on October 24th.
Colors/Logo/Helmet: Unless you have been living in a cave for your entire life, you know that Penn State wears blue and white. But that wasn’t always the case. In 1887 a committee was appointed to develop color options from which the student body would select the school's official colors. Dark pink and black was the unanimous choice of the student body after considering the color combinations presented by the committee.
The baseball team was the first to sport pink and black. However, issues arose when the pink faded to white after several weeks of exposure to the sun. The students then opted for blue, rather than black, and white. The official announcement of the new choice was made on March 18, 1890.
As you would expect, Penn State has a solidly designed / recognizable logo (displayed above). This is the second time around for this stylized mountain lion head icon, because it was actually replaced in 2001 with more modern logo designed by a professional market branding company. This change was met with disdain and only lasted three years before they went back to the old logo.
Penn Staters are as proud of their plain white helmets as we are of our historic winged masterpieces. Combined with their plain white pants and white or blue jerseys they wear the most ordinary, and yet at the same time most recognizable, uniforms in all levels of football. Penn State doesn’t even put bowl game patches on their jersey when they go to a bowl game, but they do have that omni-present Nike logo. There really isn’t any history to their helmets, except for a 5 year period (1968-74) where they put numbers on their sides (like Alabama). Just like the new logo, they went back.
Fight Song: Just in case you have not gotten the theme of this place, you need to listen to their fight song: Boring.
For my money, the most recognizable sounds coming out of Beaver Stadium is either the amplified toilet flushing sound they call a Lion Roar or Kernkraft 400 by Zombie Nation. The Penn State Fight Song is as boring and about as non-descript as you can get from a major college football program. It doesn’t even come close to any of their top Big Ten rivals. It sounds like a circus tune.
FIGHT ON, STATE
Fight on State (GO!)
Fight on State (GO!)
Strike your gait and win, (LET’S GO STATE!)
Victory we predict for thee
We’re ever true to you, dear old White and Blue.
Onward State, (GO!)
Onward State, (GO!)
Roar, Lions, roar: (LET’S GO STATE!)
We’ll hit that line, roll up the score,
Fight on to victory ever more,
Fight on, on, on, on, on, Fight on, on, Penn State! (S-T-A-T-E GO! STATE!)
Academics: Academically, Penn State is faced with a similar situation as Michigan State. When not compared to the in-state University in Pennsylvania, they stand on solid academic ground. Unfortunately for Penn State (and Sparty) the comparison with another major university in the same state is natural and not favorable.
The school is currently ranked as the 47th best National University in the US News and World Report rankings. That places them fifth in the Big Ten conference behind Northwestern (12), Michigan (27), Wisconsin and Illinois (both at 39). Their 2008 acceptance rate was 52%, however this a little misleading because many Penn State students begin their college careers at a satellite campus and transfer to the main campus after one year.
Football: Any conversation about Penn State football needs to start with Joe Paterno. He has been at the school for 60 seasons, including the last 43 years as head coach. He has delivered two National Championships and has the most victories by any Division I coach. He has coached won more bowl games and delivered more undefeated seasons than any other coach in college football history. Paterno is one of four active coaches inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
In 1969 Michigan Athletic Director Don Canham contacted Paterno to see if he would accept the vacant Michigan job. Paterno turned down the offer and Michigan went on to hire Bo Schembechler. That same year, Paterno was also offered the Pittsburgh Steelers job before Chuck Noll took over and created an NFL Dynasty.
In 1993, after years of beating cupcakes like Temple, Maryland, and Rutgers, Joe and the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten Conference. Life changed and Penn State has found the football a little tougher in the Big Ten. They have won only three Big Ten football titles since joining the conference and have set a new standard for complaining about the officials. They also currently (and temporarily) have the stadium with the largest seating capacity in the country, although they did not lead the nation in attendance last year.
The program has had such a propensity for producing great linebackers, the school has earned the nickname “Linebacker U.” The great Penn State linebackers looks like a who’s who of college football defensive greats: Jack Ham, LaVar Arrington, Brandon Short, Mark D’Onofrio, Andre Collins, Shane Conlan, Paul Posluszny, Dan Connor, and of course, Matt "NFL franchise killer" Millen.
Other Famous Penn State football players include Heisman Trophy winner John Cappelletti and Pro Football Hall of Famer Franco Harris. More recently they have produced NFL players like Larry Johnson, Kerry Collins, and Michael Robinson.
Other sports: When most people only think Penn State athletics, they think football. Most people don’t know that Penn State has one of the most successful overall athletic programs in the country. They have finished in the Top 25 in the NACDA Director's Cup every year since the inception of the program. Sports Illustrated recently ranked their overall athletic program as the 6th best in the nation. They have won 62 National Championships in sports other than football, the most recent being the 2009 Men's and Women's Fencing teams.
Famous alums: The Penn State Alumni Association—a network of 161,234 members—is the largest dues-paying alumni association in the world. Names that you might recognize: Mark Parker, CEO of Nike, Former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, Former Pennsylvania and first Director of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, Steve McCurry, photojournalist (most famous for the National Geographic photograph of the “Afghan Girl”); Herman Fisher, co-founder of Fisher-Price toy company; Richard T. James, Inventor of the Slinky; Jef Raskin, human-computer interface expert (best-known for starting the Macintosh project for Apple); John Aniston, soap opera actor and father of actress Jennifer Aniston; ESPN sideline reporter Lisa Salters; Hugh Rodham, Hillary Clinton’s brother, and Tom Verducci, writer for Sports Illustrated.
Penn State also can claim two pretty cool fictional alumni: Bruce Banner (better known when he is green and angry) and Dunder Mifflin’s HR rep Toby Flenderson.
I have missed this over the last couple of weeks because Iowa and Delaware State did not have any US Presidents or Astronauts. Penn State can claim four astronauts including Guion Bluford, the first African American in space. No Presidents.
The Game: Going into the game last year, I could not have had lower expectations. We were terrible and they were undefeated. They were ranked #3 in the nation. After nine straight losses to us they were motivated to grind us into little bits. The fact we were actually ahead at halftime (17-14) is one of the small miracles in my lifetime. As expected, this euphoria did not last as we were out scored 32-0 in the second half. Penn State had finally beaten Michigan and everyone was finally Happy in Happy Valley.
This year, I don’t have the same low expectations. Strange things happen when Penn State comes to Ann Arbor. Penn State is a good football team, but as Iowa showed a couple of weeks ago, they can be beaten. I honestly believe the 2009 version of the Michigan football team is capable of winning this game. We will need to take care of the football, eliminate the big play defensive breakdowns, and get a little magic from a healthy Tate Forcier.
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