Lifelong Service to Penn State

John Black (center) has shared this will be his last season covering Penn State football, his 46th year as editor of The Football Letter. Prior to the home finale against Rutgers last month, John’s family joined him in the press box for a ceremony recognizing his inclusion on a commemorative plaque. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

John Black, legendary Penn Stater and lifelong ambassador for the University, has announced 2021 will be his last season covering Penn State football for The Football Letter, a member benefit of the Penn State Alumni Association.

Black, a 1962 Penn State graduate who served in the U.S. Marines, walked onto the Penn State football team and served as the editor of The Daily Collegian for two years after initially joining the student newspaper as a sportswriter. In his role as editor of The Football Letter, Black covered Penn State as the team rose from an eastern power to a nationally premier and globally recognized program throughout the decades. Notably, he authored Football Letter columns from Penn State’s national title wins in the 1983 Sugar Bowl and 1987 Fiesta Bowl — sharing a firsthand account with alumni and fans.

Black has covered the last 564 Penn State football games out of the 1,355 games in Penn State’s illustrious 135-year gridiron history, saying “I have always tried to write about the game For the Glory of Penn State.”

After graduation from Penn State in 1962, Black went to work for the United States Information Agency (USIA) in Washington, D.C., when Edward R. Murrow was the director. He covered the civil rights beat from 1962-66, when USIA sent him to New York to be a United Nations correspondent for USIA, covering meetings and actions of the General Assembly, Security Council, Economic and Social Council, Human Rights Commission, and other international organizations headquartered in the United Nations Building in New York City.

Black accepted the position as editor of the Penn Stater magazine in 1970, then rose to become the deputy director of the Alumni Association. He formally retired in 2001 and stayed on as editor of The Football Letter in a volunteer role, assuring the continuation of the historic publication.

“John’s lifelong commitment to Penn State and her alumni is unparalleled having served the Alumni Association in an official capacity for parts of seven decades,” Alumni Association CEO Paul Clifford said. “I count myself among the lucky Penn Staters to have had the chance to serve this great University with him. His legacy is in the lives he touched, the people he made feel special, and the countless stories he has told that live forever as part of the lore of Dear Old State.”

“I think a tremendous responsibility comes with that,” Black said in 2014 of writing The Football Letter, “because you’re doing your job and really following through on trying to be the eyes and ears at the game for all avid alumni and fans. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

Black, the longest-tenured beat writer, has carried on the legacy and original mission of Ridge Riley, a 1932 Penn State graduate and longtime Penn State administrator. In 1938, Riley created The Football Letter, the longest-running publication of its kind in the country, to ensure alumni would remain connected to the football program. The week after each contest, alumni and fans across the nation read an eyewitness account of each game. Since this was before the invention of television and decades before the proliferation of media coverage, The Football Letter often served as the sole source for Penn Staters to follow the football team and learn in-depth details that Riley shared from being in attendance.

As Black began his first season authoring The Football Letter in 1976, he wrote the last chapter of Road to No. 1 after Riley’s death in early January 1976. Written by Riley, Road to No. 1 is the most comprehensive book ever written on Penn State football and includes a foreword from Joe Paterno. Riley and Paterno spoke often, with Paterno seeing Riley as a father figure and an integral part of the program as editor of The Football Letter. Black worked off Riley’s notes and consulted with Riley’s wife, Margaret, to ensure the book was finished and ready for publication.   

“Writing The Football Letter has given me the opportunity to see every Penn State game since 1976, and to see it on a firsthand basis, where I’m concentrating on it and trying to absorb it as much as I can,” Black says. Photo credit: John Patishnock

Black has remained active with the Alumni Association since retiring from his full-time responsibilities, attending events and meetings, where he remains a popular conversationalist, speaker, and guest. Recently, he authored a column in the January/February 2020 issue of the Penn Stater, marking the 150th anniversary of the Alumni Association. In the article, Black shares:

“Writing The Football Letter has given me the opportunity to see every Penn State game since 1976, and to see it on a firsthand basis, where I’m concentrating on it and trying to absorb it as much as I can. It’s not just going for a big tailgate and walking in to see the game as something that goes on, and then going home. For me, it’s been an opportunity to really closely follow the exploits of the Penn State football team.” The full article is available to read online.

Black’s name was included on the groundbreaking installation of a commemorative plaque in the Beaver Stadium press box, recognizing him for serving on the press corps for 25-plus years. The plaque was unveiled prior to this season’s home finale against Rutgers, and you can see a video and photos of the ceremony on the Alumni Association’s Facebook page. Additionally, in 2020, Black co-hosted the inaugural season of The Football Letter Live, a weekly online show that’s part of the recent expansion of the publication.

Black spent time in the U.S. Marine Corps before coming to Penn State and becoming editor of The Daily Collegian, as a student, and, eight years later, of the The Penn Stater magazine as an Alumni Association staff member. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

The Football Letter will continue to remain an Alumni Association member benefit, with the game day emails, Football Letter Live, and additional components all returning next season.

John lives in State College with his wife, Veda Kay. They enjoy attending campus and athletic events, traveling, and spending time with their three children and eight grandchildren.

For more on The Football Letter, including how Alumni Association members can access archived issues, visit the Alumni Association’s website.

For more on The Football Letter, including online archives (requires Alumni Association member log-in), click here.

Not yet an Alumni Association member? Click here.

Follow the Football Letter on Twitter for more videos, photos, and features.

7 thoughts on “Lifelong Service to Penn State

  1. My husband Bill and I got to know John well when we were involved in the activities as being part of the welcoming group when PSU played Alabama and arranged for the busses to transport fans from Birmingham to Tuscaloosa!
    Many fond memories of those games!

  2. I’ve been an avid Penn State football fan for 60 years (PSU BSEE 1965), No game I’ve watched or attended has ever been complete until I read John Black’s Football Letter.
    To say I admire Mr. Black is an understatement.
    Thank you, John!
    Best of luck to you and your family. Well done!

  3. My Uncle Ed and I met John at the 1999 Outback game and were amazed at how knowledgeable and personable he was. His writing is top notch and his masterful articles always made you feel good whether the team won or loss. Congratulations on a tremendous career and best wishes on your future endeavors.

  4. When I was a student, John’ s column in the Collegian was a.must read. We welcomed back to campus as the replacement for Ridge Riley and his Football Newsletters have been great, insightful interpretations of Nittany Lion gridiron action from the “inside.” Thanks John. Best wishes in all future endeavors.

  5. I graduated from PSU’s Journalism school in1961 and was a Daily Collegian news reporter when John was Editor, who was leaning toward sports even then. I went on to work for the Williamsport GRIT, Miami Herald, and Associated Press covering Gemini, Apollo and hundreds of other launches (and failures) at Cape Canaveral. The reminder of my news career was covering the computer industry. As a Penn Stater, I really enjoyed following John’s football 🏈 reports. Joe Paterno’s wife was in my wife’s sorority. For decades after, John Black has been a “glue” of ours he may not have known.

  6. John, thanks for your service to PSU. Your reporting on the football games will be sadly missed. For The Glory

  7. Pingback: Penn State Preview: Outback Bowl vs. Arkansas – The Football Letter Blog

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