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A History Of Penn State Football Traditions

Though there are a handful of new and exciting Penn State traditions on the horizon (stay tuned), we’d be remiss not to recount the amazing ones that have remained stable throughout time. The Nittany Lion has a new tradition in the works that he hopes to start, and naturally we are all thrilled. This new tradition could be an instant classic, but before the Lion’s big announcement, let’s take some time to appreciate some major traditions that got us here in the first place. Here are just some of the notable ones that go into gameday here at Dear Old State.

One of the oldest Penn State traditions is the act of guarding the Nittany Lion statue. During Homecoming Week, a strict watch over the shrine is kept to protect the lion from being vandalized. Members of the Blue Band, Penn State ROTC, Lion Ambassadors, and additional students and faculty take turns to protect the shrine.

Donated by the class of 1940, this slick statue was carved from 13-ton block of Indiana limestone by sculptor Heinze Warnecke. The Lion Shrine serves today as a quintessential Penn State monument, and is an extremely popular photo opportunity. In fact, our lion shrine is the second-most photographed monument in Pennsylvania, the first being the Liberty Bell. It is surely a beautiful and classic addition to Penn State culture, certainly worthy of protection against sabotage.

As gameday approaches, students naturally grow eager with anticipation. Because Beaver Stadium is known to hold the nation’s No. 1 student section, Penn State students are dying for a great spot on game day. Our football fans do more than simply wait in line early the morning of gameday, however.

Nittanyville appears when students begin camping out in tents outside the entrance of Beaver Stadium to ensure they snatch the best student spots possible. Some compare this occurrence to a “week-long” student tailgate, which sounds about right. Nittanyville, or “The ‘Ville” for short, is just one of the ways Penn State students show their impressive dedication to Penn State football.

(Photo: Eric H. Weiss)
Students set up their Nittanyville tents, preparing for a long week of camping outside the stadium. (Photo: Eric H. Weiss)

So the students and faculty have guarded the shrine, they’ve camped out for excellent spots, and now gametime is slowly approaching with three hours before kick-off. During this time, fans line Porter Road south of Beaver Stadium and Curtin Road in front of the stadium to celebrate the arrival of the Penn State football team. The team gets prepared in full gear before boarding four nondescript blue school buses.

Sitting in the front seat of the first bus is the head coach. Sitting right up front with the coach is the eagerly anticipated starting quarterback for that day’s game. Students and fans wait with excitement as they watch the coach and the quarterback step off the bus and into the stadium.

Imagine as the crowds start to fill up the stadium at last. The anticipation is over. It’s finally time! Soon, running across the field is the Nittany Lion mascot. The mascot tradition began in 1907, following a 1904 baseball game against Princeton. At the time, Penn State lacked a mascot, and Princeton was flaunting theirs: The Princeton Bengal Tiger. Team member and senior H.D. Joe Mason replied instantly to Princeton’s attempt at intimidation, and came up with the “Nittany Lion” idea. Inspired by the Nittany mountain lion discovered up on Mount Nittany, he dubbed this lion the “fiercest beast of them all,” who could overcome even the Bengal tiger.

nittany lion football
The Nittany Lion, pumping up the student section.

That day, the team defeated Princeton, a prideful event in Penn state history. Ever since then, the Nittany Lion has received nothing but raging support and fierce dedication. The Lion has a handful of traditional gameday tricks, from its one-handed push-ups to its crowd surfing of the student section.

If you take a close look at the student section during the game, you may notice something stand out — the infamous “S Zone.” Nestled in the sea of blue and white sits a giant white block “S,” spelled out strategically from dedicated students. The “S Zone” stands for the “S” in State. In 1998, the Penn State Student Lion Ambassadors gathered about 800 Penn State seniors to sit together during gameday. The seniors were instructed to wear an “S-Zone” t-shirt and remain standing in their designated spot throughout the entire game. Because not every student can stand in the “S-Zone,” it is coveted for many students in their senior year.

So there you have it, just some of the major Penn state traditions that go into gameday. Penn State is a massive community with a huge and fiercely loyal following, so all of our traditions are all the more respected and sacred. Moving forward, with even more traditions potentially coming to gameday, history could be made soon and often.

About the Author

Carolyn Popescu

Current senior studying Advertising and Visual Arts, Carolyn has a passion for entertainment and music. She also loves photography, film, graphic design, social media, and all things in between. She's the current Sony Music Marketing Representative for State College, so be sure to reach out to her with any local music scene questions, ideas, proposals, or if you just need someone to geek out about music with.

(Contact her through [email protected] or [email protected])

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