The last decade has held a lot for Penn Staters. Trials and tribulations, joy and suffering, sanctions and Big Ten Championships. It’s also seen the creation of one of the most unique spectacles in college sports: the White Out.
Feared among opponents and cherished by Penn Staters, the White Out game is an incredible tradition, but one we might lose if we keep staging these impromptu, pseudo-white outs. That would be a damn shame.
An Abbreviated History
Penn State football needed a boost in the early 2000s, and some smart marketing folks determined there would be more unity if everyone was wearing the same color. Promoted primarily with guerilla marketing, the student section held the first white out in 2004 and the following year the first successful student section-wide White Out took place, resulting in a legendary win over Ohio State.
The first stadium-wide white out happened in 2007 and since then, Penn State has hosted (usually) one White Out game each season, typically the most important game of the year against the biggest opponent, often at night.
Until 2016, at least.
James Franklin got so excited about how well the White Out worked against Ohio State last season that he started encouraging fans to wear white to practically every game from then on. Even away games.
There’s really only one “rule” for the White Out game: You have to wear white. Unofficially, however, the second unspoken rule (that I thought was obvious but apparently not) is that the white out must be held in Beaver Stadium.
White Out games have been among the most important in recent Penn State football history. If last year’s Ohio State game was away or a noon kickoff, could the Nittany Lions have come back? Does a four-overtime victory against Michigan and “The Catch” even happen without a White Out game under the lights?
One of the reasons the White Out “works” is because everyone gets so excited. It’s special. It’s once a year– the entire stadium participates, and the game means something. It’s a time-honored tradition. It’s the best atmosphere in college football.
By asking fans to wear white for every game, we are running the risk of destroying one of the core identities of modern-day Penn State football. It will lose its effect and people won’t know when to go all out. It’s like the boy who cried wolf: The coach and student section who called White Out.
It’s not like it’s the white that gets us going — in my opinion, the stripe out turns out pretty cool, too. And while I hate the marketing scheme of making every game “themed,” I believe there are other options worth exploring that bring us together.
Perhaps the quote that best explains the power of a White Out came from Urban Meyer last year in anticipation of his team’s clash with the wall of sound and white.
‘I wish they’d save the Whiteout for other games,’ OSU coach Urban Meyer said today. Called PSU “one of the top 5 atmospheres” in CFB.
— Mark Wogenrich (@MarkWogenrich) October 17, 2016
A renowned football coach doesn’t just say that against any team with a 4-2 record. But a man with an appreciation for good football and a close game against a whited-out Penn State in 2014 can do strange things to the psyche. Year after year, players report rattling helmets, the ground shaking beneath their feet, and having to scream just to hear the teammate next to them. It’s off-putting to an opponent, and it gets the job done.
When you find out your team is playing Penn State in the White Out, you know you’d better be ready, because you know Penn State will be. That’s an unrivaled intimidation factor, if you ask me.
Penn State fans in 2014 registered 111 decibels during the White Out game against Ohio State. That’s only 14 decibels short of when people start to feel pain in their ears. That’s an atmosphere that packs a physical punch, a classic epitome of the White Out.
If a team like Pitt comes to Beaver Stadium and sees a crowd wearing mostly white, its players are not going to be all too impressed with the “white out.” Despite a crowd of more than 109,000, it just didn’t get as rowdy as an official White Out would have. As Penn State plays more and more teams with these pseudo-white outs, the White Out reputation will be lost to word of mouth, and the sensationalism of kicking a team in the gut with one big White Out will be lost.
To James Franklin, Nittanyville, and other proponents of calling for a White Out for every important or semi-important game: Respect the White Out. It’s not something you should call for just because you want the team to have a little extra “push.” It’s a tradition that should be reserved for one game a year, and an important game at that. It’s not just what color we wear. It means more than that, and has since its inception.
Coach Franklin, I promise fans will show up to the important games this year. Hell, we’ll show up to all the games. Trust me there, and trust that your fans care enough about Penn State football to cheer it on through anything. I think we’ve proven we’re in it for the long haul, no matter what happens to the team on or off the field.
I can always buy more white shirts. I can’t create a legend, especially one as renowned and feared by opponents as the Penn State White Out game. It means a lot not only to Penn Staters, but to all college football fans. It’s what sports are all about.
The Penn State White Out game is one of the best traditions in college football. It brings back memories, it’s seeded in history, and it brings us together. Let’s not soil a piece of the fabric of Penn State by calling for a White Out more than once a year.
Editors Note: This story has been updated to correct a factual error. We apologize for the initial inaccuracy.