Penn State History Lesson: Football Uniforms Through The Years
With Homecoming weekend approaching, Penn State football will break out its throwback “Generations Of Greatness” uniforms when the team takes the field against Illinois on Saturday.
Despite being known for their simplicity, Penn State’s uniforms have changed quite a bit since the team’s first official game in 1887. As the Nittany Lions honor the history and tradition of the program with the throwback uniforms, take a deep dive into the history books and look over the history of the Nittany Lions’ iconic threads.
Penn State adopted college football and a few other sports in 1887 when the Nittany Lions stepped onto the gridiron on Old Main Lawn for the first time to play Bucknell. Due to the early introduction, there wasn’t a lot of interest surrounding the team or the rest of college football at the time. Players needed to provide their own uniforms and equipment to play, which caused teams to have a wide variety of colors and uniform styles on the field.
According to author Mark Harrington, Penn State players would give the balls to opposing players thinking they were on the same team. The Nittany Lions decided to pick matching colors for everyone to wear during games, and the team then chose to wear pink and black — Penn State’s original school colors.
After playing nine games over the course of the next three seasons, the uniforms underwent normal wear and tear, as washing them bleached the pink to white while the sun lightened the black to navy blue. Thus, the student athletic association changed the team’s colors to blue and white in 1890. The student body then officially made the iconic blue and white the school’s official colors later in the year, according to Harrington.
To help the players identify each other, the Nittany Lions added numbers to the front and back of their uniforms in 1930.
In his fourth year as head coach, Rip Engle added stripes down the side of the team’s pants and around the arm sleeves, similar to the “Generations of Greatness” uniforms that Penn State debuted in 2017. This later changed to a single stripe on the blue and white jerseys in the late 1950s, and the stripe on the pants was removed in the mid-1960s. The single stripe on the sleeves was removed in 1966 but reintroduced in 1980.
Once former head coach Joe Paterno took the reins from Engle, Penn State’s uniforms got one of its most iconic additions with numbers added to the helmets. Even though the numbers made a brief debut in 1961, they were quickly taken off and not permanently implemented until 1968. The numbers were removed from the helmets again in 1974.
After the 1970s, there were not any major changes to Penn State’s uniforms for a long while. The Nittany Lions made a few adjustments, the first coming in 1987 when the facemasks on the helmets were changed in color from gray to navy blue.
In 1993, Penn State signed a three-year deal with Nike worth $2.3 million. The Nittany Lions then added the iconic Nike ‘swoosh’ to their sleeves. It was then moved toward the jersey’s upper left over the player’s chests in 1994.
The Nittany Lions made their first change to the uniform in 2011 when the stripes were removed from the sleeves and collars. It was the first noticeable change to the naked eye since 1980.
Bill O’Brien was hired as Penn State football’s head coach in January 2012, and he wanted to do something to honor the players who stayed through the sanctions imposed from the NCAA in response to the Sandusky scandal. He chose to do something that no coach has done at Penn State before him: put the players’ last names on the back of their jerseys. The Nittany Lions also added the Big Ten logo to the front of its jerseys, too.
Of course, nobody can forget the emotional end to Penn State’s season when players put No. 42 on the left side of their helmets to honor then-injured captain Michael Mauti on Senior Day. This was the first time Penn State’s helmets had numbers since 1974.
Penn State made another subtle adjustment to the uniforms when it added Penn State Athletics’ logo to the center of the collar.
In James Franklin’s second year as head coach, Penn State took the last names of the players’ jerseys, giving us the uniform that we are all used to seeing every Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
Do you have a favorite Penn State uniform? Which iteration of black shoes and basic blues looked the best in your eyes? Let us know in the comments!
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