Old School Football

Football Letter creator Ridge Riley shared details of Penn State’s last two contests with Villanova in issues of the letter sent in 1949 and ’51. Photo credit: John Patishnock

Even though the games happened more than 70 years ago, I didn’t have to go far to find details on Penn State’s last two contests against in-state foe Villanova. All I had to do was turn around and open a drawer.

Let me explain.

We’ve been formally/informally organizing past issues of The Football Letter, and the more seasoned issues are held in safe-keeping in a climate-controlled environment. Specifically, my filing cabinets.

While Penn State leads the all-time series 5-3-1, Villanova’s actually won the last three times the teams have played, including in 1949 and ’51. We have Football Letter issues of these two games. Quick point, in case you’re wondering, the Penn State-Villanova series started in 1902, with the other games taking place up to 1936, so we don’t have issues for the Nittany Lions’ victories in the series (The Football Letter was started in 1938).

We won’t dwell on the details — the Wildcats won 27-6 in ’49 and 20-14 two years later — though it’s worth pointing out the ’51 game occurred in Rip Engle’s second season as head coach. Football Letter creator and author Ridge Riley spoke to Engle the following Sunday morning for an interview, and wrote “we” and “our” throughout the letter to indicate that Riley considered himself and The Football Letter very much part of the football program.

We should point out here that Riley’s assessment is absolutely true.

A few years ago, we uncovered an interview that Riley had with Joe Paterno in the mid-70s, and during the conversation, Paterno emphasized the importance of Riley including certain points he was making within The Football Letter. Reason being that if fans didn’t read about it in the Football Letter, they wouldn’t read or hear about it anywhere else.

Back to that 1951 contest. Here are a few other notes worth passing along.

— Penn State President Milton Eisenhower sat in the student section for the game, and afterward, visited the locker room to inform Engle that despite the loss, it was “the best game I’ve ever seen.”

— The Nittany Lions rushed the ball 59 times for a total net gain of 346 yards. Villanova, meanwhile, totaled 42 carries for a net gain of 186 yards.

— Reserving a ticket for home games in the 1951 season set you back $3.60 for reserved seats on the side, though you could get a seat behind the end zone for a discounted price of $2.40. And if you wanted to see Penn State play at Pitt in the season finale on Nov. 24, you needed to shell out a little more ($5.20) for a box seat.

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