What Happened in Penn State’s First Homecoming Game?
Nowadays, Homecoming is a weeklong celebration highlighted with a parade, a carnival, and, of course, a football game. But Homecoming has a rich history that spans 94 years — the first game dates all the way back to Oct. 9, 1920. It was a far cry from the Penn State games of today.
Back in 1920, the idea of an Alumni Homecoming was exciting, but because the idea came so late in the season, there were only about 1,200 alumni who actually made it to the game. The tickets themselves were only $1.50 (which makes Penn State’s student deal for the upcoming Homecoming game seem kind of greedy, huh?):
The game was played at the site that preceded Beaver Stadium, the long-gone New Beaver Field that stood in the Kern Building’s current post. The stadium was nothing more than a wood structure put together in order to replace the Old Beaver Field, which is now the parking lot behind the Osmond Lab. But the wooden benches, combined with lousy temporary seating, didn’t stop a record crowd of 12,000 fans from piling into the field to witness Penn State’s first-ever Homecoming game. The excitement of Homecoming and a chance to see Penn State take on Dartmouth made it a game no one was willing to miss.
This was the second season in a row that the two teams would face each other. The season before, Penn State lost a close 19-13 game on the road. The loss was even more bitter considering the Nittany Lions were perfect the rest of the year, finishing with a 7-1 record. Before the October game, Penn State was 2-0 and it looked like this could be the year for an undefeated season, just as long as they could keep another Dartmouth upset at bay. The Penn State Collegian hailed the “Alumni Day” game as “the greatest in the east.”
The team itself was led by coach Hugo Bezdek, who compiled a 65-30-11 record in his 12 seasons as head coach and athletic director. This was only his second full season with the team, and he wasn’t going to let Dartmouth once again ruin his chance at a perfect season. Luckily, Bezdek’s Penn State squad featured standouts such as Percy Griffiths, who later became a congressman, and Glenn Killinger, who played for the New York Giants and later became West Chester University’s athletic director.
The game itself was ruled by defense. Both teams were tied 7-7 going into the final minutes of the game, and offenses for both teams struggled to get into the end zone (#B1G). Dartmouth was on offense in the waning minutes, and like any good Penn State crowd, the fans were as loud as can be in their cheering. To lose again to this team would be heartbreaking, and every person in that stadium knew it.
In those final minutes, Penn State turned it on. Penn State’s Glenn Killinger intercepted a pass and returned it 52 yards to Dartmouth’s two-yard line before finally being taken down. From there, Joe Lightner was able to punch it in to give Penn State the winning touchdown. The game ended 14-7.
The best part? That Homecoming victory marked the beginning of a 30-game winning streak for the Nittany Lions.
So while James Franklin’s focus this week may be “Northwestern, Northwestern, Northwestern,” it’s always important to take a moment and reflect on the past. We should all take a little more pride than usual on Saturday knowing that the game is part of an almost century-old tradition.
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