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Friday, October 13, 2006

Know Your Foe - Penn State

It's the second night game in three weeks for the Wolverines as they travel to Happy Valley to take on Penn State. Michigan has won seven straight in the series, including a last-second thriller in 2005, handing the Nittany Lions their only loss of the season. PSU has been pointing to this game for a year, but Michigan is 4-1 in State College, with their only loss there in 1995. With those basics out of the way, here we go with the latest edition of the MZone's KNOW YOUR FOE.

History – Penn State was founded as the Farmers' High School of Pennsylvania in 1855 (you read that right, Farmer’s HIGH SCHOOL). With the passage of the Morrill-Land Grant Act in 1862, the school's name became only slightly worse - The Agricultural College of Pennsylvania. In the following years, enrollment sunk as the university tried to balance providing agricultural studies with a more classic education. Sound familiar? This is the same route that Sparty followed. No wonder they battle for the Land Grant Trophy in the last game of the season. The university’s motto of “Making Life Better” sounds more appropriate for an allergy medicine.

Location – State College, Pennsylvania, though the mailing address of the university is University Park, Pennsylvania. To add to the confusion, the area in which PSU is located is commonly referred to as Happy Valley. In 1953, when Penn State went from being a college to a university, college university president Milton S. Eisenhower wanted the town to change its name. No majority was reached in a naming referendum, so the name remained State College. However, PSU president Eisenhower asked his older brother, U. S. president Eisenhower to grant the university its own ZIP code and named it University Park. Happy Valley refers to the campus and surrounding area. Whatever you want to call it, the campus, though a bitch to get to, is a classic college town with a thriving music scene and plenty of places to eat or drink.

Surprisingly, over 60% of Penn State students begin their studies at one of the 19 commonwealth campuses throughout the state. It’s kind of a like a farm system for the big university in State College. I’m surprised JoePa hasn’t called up a player or two in the past few seasons.

Nickname – Nittany Lions, named for the mountain lion that used to roam the area near the university until they were eliminated in the 1880s. The mascot was created by a Penn State senior, H. D. “Joe” Mason, after he went to Princeton and was upset that they had a ferocious Tiger as a mascot and PSU had nothing. Good thing he didn’t steal Princeton’s helmet design. The Nittany part of the nickname comes from Mount Nittany near campus.

In 1940, the university built the Lion Shrine, which is probably the most popular place on campus for visitors, a huge photograph subject on graduation day, and is always a subject of the TV networks’ shots of campus during a game. The statue of a lion was carved by Heinz Warnecke from a 13-ton block of limestone. Again, much like Sparty, the Penn State ROTC guards the shrine during homecoming weekend.

In contrast to the dignified, elegant Lion statue at the Lion Shrine, Penn State also has a costume mascot that roams the sideline during football games. I think I could find a better costume at a Halloween shop. What did they spend on that thing, $10 bucks? It was recently accurately rated as “Sucks” by the Golden Tornado’s analysis of college mascots.

Colors/Logo/Fight Song – Blue and White. Yawn. Very common. Very plain. But that’s what Penn State football is about. Plainness. No logo on the helmet. Those horribly ugly white road uniforms with no trim anywhere. They are unique. But still bland. Still ugly. There was probably an uproar when they changed to a blue facemask in 1987. What most people don’t realize is that Penn State used to have a helmet adornment. From 1968 to 1974, a player’s number appeared on both sides of the helmet, similar to Alabama. After seven years though, this must have proved too radical for a still-youngish but still-ornery Joe Paterno, and PSU went back to the plain white with blue stripe.

The Penn State logo, which is a modernistic take on the statue in the Lion Shrine, returned in 2005 after a more modern (and generic) logo replaced it for four years. The current logo is unique and clearly signifies “Penn State” to any college football fan. The logo from the early part of this century was obviously the result of multiple marketing committees and planning teams. The university was wise to revert back to the classic logo.

The Penn State Fight Song is non-descript and doesn’t rank anywhere near most of its Big Ten counterparts. Very few college football fans, other than those who cheer for the Nittany Lions, would be able to recognize it, much less hum a few bars. Sadly, the annoying electronic lion roar that’s repeatedly piped through the PA system at the stadium is more well known than the fight song (which Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said he actually liked last Sunday on MICHIGAN REPLAY).

Academics – You know you pale in comparison to your neighbor when Wikipedia begins its entry on your university with the following: "This article is about the state-related university. For the Ivy League university in Philadelphia, see University of Pennsylvania." Make no mistake, other than on a faulty Internet search, Penn State would never be confused with a prestigious university such as UPenn. Or many other highly-rated schools for that matter. PSU ranks 47th in the latest U.S. News rankings of the nation's universities, tied with football powerhouses Texas and Florida, as well as UC-Davis and UC-Santa Barbara. So, as far as football programs that are from schools ranked 47th, they're number 3.

Athletics – The Nittany Lions became members of the Big Ten in 1991. After enjoying tremendous success beating teams like Temple and Rutgers while an independent, Penn State has found the football road a little tougher, only winning two Big Ten titles since joining the conference. Their basketball team has been mostly a non-entity on campus, as has most of their men's sports teams. PSU hadn't won a conference title in any men's sport for three years until the football and futbol teams broke through last year. Along with their two national championships in football (1982 and 1986), the Nittany Lions have won NCAA titles in such sports as boxing, men's soccer, and women's bowling. And they're a veritable dynasty in fencing, having won nine national titles since 1990.

Famous alums – Wow, and I thought Sparty's list of alumni was lame. For a school with the largest dues-paying alumni association in the world, they sure don't have many well-known members. Take a look at this list. Come on, the most well known person on the "Art/Media" list might be the former carpenter on Trading Spaces. No, not Ty Pennington. They're so desperate to get people on the list, they actually list a Survivor contestant...who finished third. OK, they can claim one of the founders of Fisher-Price (Fisher, not Price), but that's about it for business. As far as athletes listed, they're almost all football players. That isn't surprising, but it's certainly different from any other school Michigan's played. But I will give them credit for spanning the political spectrum when producing polarizing politicians and their relatives: Hillary Rodham Clinton's father and brother, Valerie Plame, and Rick Santorum are all PSU alumni.

The Game – Everyone's pointed to this game as a potential roadblock for Michigan. It's at night in front of a hostile crowd jonesing for revenge. Michigan's top WR is out. The game comes after a big rivalry game for the Wolverines and before the last tough game before the season-ender with Ohio State. It doesn't matter: Michigan 23, Penn State 6.


Galen said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Galen said...

Don’t Fu** with our fencing team! I mean it!! We’ll kick your ass!

Chris of Dangerous Logic said...

To whet your appetite for tomorrow night, I put highlights from the '05 game on YouTube.

blog link

Mike said...

Great writeup. You glanced over two of the greatest alumni ever. Ben and Jerry learned how to make ice cream through a Penn State correspondence course.

surrounded in columbus said...

you don't give amy wynn enough credit (and you picked a poor photo). she's no paige davis, but amy wynn is the cutest thing a tool belt this side of a snap on tool calendar pic.

Yost said...

Have to agree, SiC.

Benny Friedman said...

SiC, In regards to Amy Wynn, I tried to find a better picture but was unable to. There are some decent pictures of her, but I wanted to show her as a carpenter, not as someone walking down the red carpet.
And unless Paige Davis promised to keep silent, I'd take Amy Wynn over her any day.

Scott Boswell said...

I would do unholy things to her...if my wife would let me.

Yost said...


How could you leave off the dude who wrote SEVEN?

bk said...

Excellent write up. I look forward to "know your foe" every week.

LetsGoBlue said...

I agree with BK, I look forward to "know your foe" every week. Can anyone please explain where Beaver Stadium comes from? Doesn't that belong in Oregon?

Anonymous said...

Beaver Stadium is named after a former governor.

Anonymous said...

Ironically, that particular arrangement of "The Nittany Lion" was written as a graduation project from a UM music major who donated it to the school.

"Fight On, State" and "Victory" are the more common fight songs.

Anonymous said...

Furthermore, the wikipedia entry for UPenn has the same disambiguation notice.

The University of Pennsylvania also sells shirts that read: "Not Penn State."

Now, tell me who has the identity crisis.

Anonymous said...

Haha, one more:

Career Bowl Victories:

Joe Paterno: 22
University of Michigan: 18

And yes, I realize the Big Ten only sent one representative to bowl games prior to 1975, and that you could not go to consecutive Rose Bowls.

You guys did get shafted against Nebraska last year, though.