Lionhearted

 

Danny Connell is a hockey player, with all the passion and toughness that designation implies. He’s been on the ice since he was four. “It’s the love of his life,” his mother says.

This past summer, Danny was getting ready for a big step forward: At 14 and a freshman-to-be, he was going out for his high school team. Of course, that meant a comprehensive physical, of that sort that would be a formality for most kids. But his parents knew this was anything but for Danny: There was a family history of heart issues on his father’s side, including an uncle who died of an enlarged heart in his early 30s. It was a risk they had to take seriously.

“They did an EKG and a stress test, and at first, everything looked fine,” Nicole Connell said. “But then they did an echocardiogram, and the story totally changed.”

The Connell family was together in the doctor’s office when they got the news: Continue reading

Happy Birthday to Us

This season marks 80 years since Ridge Riley ’32 debuted The Football Letter as a way to keep far-flung Penn State alumni up to date with the week-to-week results of the Nittany Lion football team. It also marks a much more modest anniversary: Five years ago this week, we launched the online presence you’re reading now, expanding the Football Letter brand for the social media age.

While John Black ’62 gears up for his 43rd season as editor of the Football Letter, we thought it might be a good time to share some highlights from the blog. Here’s our pick of our five favorite stories from the past five years.

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The Legends of ’94

Our epic, five-part oral history of the unbeaten 1994 Nittany Lions features exclusive interviews with Kerry Collins ’94, Ki-Jana Carter ’95, Bobby Engram ’95, Jeff Hartings ’95, Tom Bradley ’78, Fran Ganter ’71, and many others. A fun and revealing look back at arguably the greatest offense in college football history. Continue reading

The Legacy Continues

Like any father of a high school senior, Leonard Humphries knew he had to let his son make the college choice that was best for him—regardless of Humphries’ connection to his own alma mater.

“I wanted him to approach the process with an open mind, look at everything that’s out there and make a determination,” Humphries says. “He might not like the same things I like. What was good for me 30 years ago, I didn’t know if it was going to be good for him.”

And so, the senior Humphries insists, there was was no pressure. But there was hope. “I just hoped that he understood what I know about Penn State, and what a great university it is.”

Leonard’s hope was officially rewarded on Wednesday, Continue reading

FBL Podcast: Indiana Week

 

We trust James Franklin will forgive us for lingering just a bit longer on last week’s unforgettable win at Iowa. Join us on this week’s podcast as we relive a crazy night in Iowa City, and, yes, look ahead to Indiana (Indiana, Indiana).

This week’s letterman guest is Tony Pittman ’95, a man whose claims to fame are many. A three-year letterwinner, Tony was a starter on the undefeated 1994 squad—a stat that ties into his own proud family connection to the Nittany Lion program: Tony is the son of Charlie Pittman ’70, an All-American running back on Penn State’s unbeaten 1968 and ’69 teams. Their unique claim to fame? Father and son went a combined 45-0-1 as starters in blue and white. They also collaborated on the 2007 book “Playing for Paterno,” which is loaded with great stories and insights. Continue reading

FBL Podcast: Iowa Week

 

We get ready for Big Ten play and catch up with one of the famed Penn State Collins brothers as the Nittany Lions hit the road for a big game in Iowa City.

Hailing from Cinnaminson, N.J., Jason Collins ’97 was a standout on the undefeated 1994 squad, Continue reading

FBL Podcast: Georgia State Week

 

It’s Panthers on both sides on this week’s podcast, as we look back at a satisfying victory over old rival Pitt, and look ahead to this week’s visit from Georgia State.

We’ve got a great conversation with Anwar Phillips ’05, a standout in the secondary on the Nittany Lions’ mid-2000s teams, including that memorable run to the 2005 Big Ten championship, Continue reading

FBL Podcast: Pitt Week

Regardless of whether you call it a “rivalry” — those of us who are old enough certainly do — there’s a buzz in the air as Pitt makes its long-awaited return to Happy Valley. This week’s podcast is all about that in-state battle.

This week’s guest letterman is Bill Contz ’83, a starting lineman on the 1982 national championship team and author of the new book When the Lions Roared: Joe Paterno and One of College Football’s Greatest Teams. Continue reading