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Cowbell Man: The End Of An Era

Despite a tradition more than 30 years in the making, there’s a noticeable void in the upper deck of Beaver Stadium’s north end zone this year. “Cowbell Man” is no longer able to pump up the crowd with the prescription it needs.

History of Cowbell Man

Rob Sterling, more commonly known as Cowbell Man, was the Nittany Lion from 1984-1986. According to The Nittany Lion by Jackie Esposito and Steven Herb, Sterling “remembers Lady Lion basketball most fondly.”

At the time Sterling wore the costume, the Lion did not usually attend Lady Lion basketball games, so the team and fans were “especially appreciative” of his support. Even the Blue Band appreciated Sterling’s regular presence — so much so that the band gave Sterling a cowbell to contribute to popular Penn State melodies. Nobody expected Sterling’s tradition to continue after he graduated from Penn State.

It wasn’t until the Rutgers game in 1991 that Cowbell Man returned as a crowd favorite. Sitting in the recently-completed upper deck of the north end zone, Sterling decided to recapture the excitement of his role as the Nittany Lion by playing his signature cowbell tune. The Nittany Lion says crowds went wild that day and Cowbell Man became so popular the athletic department asked Sterling to bring his “instrument and enthusiasm” to basketball games at the Bryce Jordan Center a few years later.

Since that fateful day in 1991, Sterling has attended nearly every home game and attempts to attend at least one away game each year. The Daily Collegian even profiled Sterling in 1996. Crowds look forward to hearing Sterling’s cowbell and chanting along “P-S-U,” but the tradition might have met its demise this year.

Cowbell Controversy

If you’re up with NCAA regulations, you may already know that “artificial noisemakers” (read: cowbells) are technically banned from any competition venues (read: Beaver Stadium). While other noisemakers like whistles and air horns were strictly prohibited, it seemed for a while that security was more lax for cowbells. I don’t think I’ve ever attended a game where I didn’t hear at least one cowbell in the student section. So why the sudden change?

Quite simply, it’s nearly impossible to “sneak” cowbells into the stadium with this year’s new security measures that require each fan to pass through a metal detector before entering the stadium. Cowbells, obviously, don’t get through metal detectors without setting them off. So, unfortunately, this means gone are the days of just “sticking the bell in your jeans” to enter the stadium. This likely explains the mysterious absence of Rob Sterling’s upper deck cowbell routine.

The Exception to the Rule

College football fans may recognize one glaring exception to this NCAA rule: Mississippi State. The NCAA’s Southeastern Conference banned artificial noisemakers like cowbells in 1974, ruling them a disruption on a 9-1 vote of the schools. According to Bleacher Report, this rule persisted until 2010 when Scott Stricklin became the Mississippi State Athletic Director.

Just a few weeks after becoming AD, Stricklin attended SEC spring meetings and convinced officials to allow Mississippi State to bring back cowbells with the addition of the “Ring Responsibly” campaign. Now, fans are allowed to play cowbells during times when music is allowed to play throughout the stadium, which is when play is stopped.

If you’re stumped on this regulation, think of all the times you’ve been disappointed that the Beaver Stadium music man cuts off Closer in the middle of the chorus because the next play is starting. Mississippi fans are required to stop playing their cowbells when the music stops if they want to continue their exception to the rule.

Could Penn State plead a similar exception in Rob Sterling’s case?

“We are striving for our policies to be consistent throughout the entire stadium and, thus, cannot make an exception for one fan,” Associate Athletic Director for Strategic Communications Jeff Nelson said.

Or not.

It appears Cowbell Man might’ve seen his last hurrah.

About the Author

Elissa Hill

Elissa is a junior public relations major and the managing editor of Onward State. She is from Punxsutawney, PA [insert corny Bill Murray joke here] and considers herself an expert on all things ice cream. Send questions and comments via e-mail ([email protected]) and follow her on Twitter (@ElissaKHill) for more corny jokes.


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