The More Things Change

Stories from a 1961 issue of The Penn Stater featured game day traffic patterns, insight from Penn State’s football coach, and schedule notes. Photo credit: John Patishnock Jr.

Many of the similarities were striking.

For anyone who’s enamored with the history and tradition of Penn State — the football program and University — the connections to yesteryear will probably evoke affectionate chuckles more than anything else.

Alumni and fans were informed of new traffic patterns on game day, the football coach wondered how the sport’s new rules would impact his team, and the University president was concerned with the rising cost of tuition.

Stories detailing these topics appeared in The Penn Stater in 1961, specifically the September and December issues. I was transported back to this time after my parents recently picked up these Penn State artifacts at an antique shop in the Harrisburg area.

The find prompted some thinking on our part. At the time, what is now the Penn Stater magazine was called Penn State Alumni News. It wasn’t until the early 1970s that former Football Letter editor John Black, who previously oversaw the magazine, renamed the publication to The Penn Stater. The current edition of the magazine stopped italicizing The a number of years ago.

However, there’s a note in each issue detailing that the early 1960s version of The Penn Stater is mailed four times a year — March, June, September, and December — “by The Pennsylvania State University in the interest of Penn State alumni.” Longtime Alumni Association leader Ross Lehman is listed as editor, with Ridge Riley noted as executive secretary. This rendition of The Penn Stater was in its 24th year of publication in 1961, taking its origin back to the late 1930s. The current edition of the Penn Stater began in 1914.

News of the day in the 1960s featured some of the same topics that are timely today, in addition to light-hearted topics such as the popularity of milk. Photo credit: John Patishnock Jr.

There are promotions for The Football Letter, an area titled News of Alumni that’s “condensed from the Penn State Alumni News,” and a sidebar with quotes from Rip Engle, preparing for his 12th year as head coach. Engle shared his thoughts on new rules enacted for the upcoming college football season. One-platoon football was again the norm, as unlimited substitutions went away — players played both offense and defense, unheard of for today’s game — and the two-point conversion was an option at the time.

At first, Engle wasn’t a fan of the platoon change, but he came around, saying that “unrestricted substitutions would mean bigger squads and bigger coaching staffs with offensive and defensive specialists. We would be spending too much money because of the increase in the overall size of the program.”

I’ll pause here to allow the reader to think about how much the game has seismically shifted since that time.

The platoon rule was changed again a few years later, and in 1965, teams once again featured separate offensive and defensive squads.

Here are a few editorial highlights:

  • At the time, tuition cost $525/year for in-state students and $1,050 for students from elsewhere. “Tuition and room-and-board charge cannot go much higher,” President Eric Walker said, “without seriously affecting the ability of our young people to enter college after high school.” Tuition rose multiple times from 1947-61, with President Walker adding, “It must stop soon or a college education no longer will be within reach of the family of modest means.”
  • A prominent headline reads, “University Outlines New Routes to Beaver Stadium to Ease Football Game Traffic,” adding that “five attractive home games” will most likely lead to record attendance numbers and extra traffic. Detailed traffic patterns, complete with color codes, topped the article, as that season, Penn State hosted Navy, Army, Syracuse, California, and Holy Cross. In case you’re wondering, the Nittany Lions defeated all those teams except for Army. After going through the requisite details of what to expect from game day traffic and how to alleviate it, the article ended, “And here’s a final suggestion, as practiced by many people last year: get to the stadium at noon, or even earlier, and bring a picnic lunch. You will have no traffic problem and plenty of time to admire the scenery.”
  • On the lighter side, a news item declares, “Milk a Popular Drink.” Numbers were provided to ensure this wasn’t opinion, but fact. Male students eating in the University dining halls consumed an average of 10 quarts per week, while coeds were close behind with an average of 8.5.

Check out more photos below:

Photo credit: John Patishnock Jr.
Photo credit: John Patishnock Jr.
Photo credit: John Patishnock Jr.

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Poll Position

DaeSean Hamilton starred for Penn State during one of the most successful runs in program history, as the Nittany Lions were ranked in the AP Poll for 58 straight weeks from 2016-20. Photo credit: Steve Manuel.

I can’t recall how I first learned about the site or when I started visiting. Like a roadside diner you don’t always notice or a popular night spot with no visible entrance, it’s just always been there. Part of the scenery, meshing into the background.

The site name is simple enough,, with complete breakdowns of the history of the college football AP Poll. A quick look at the site tells you it’s most likely overseen by a fan or group of fans, though it must get traffic, based on the number of ads. The “Contact” page provides an email address for someone named Keith (no last name, which fits the vibe).

Though in all my extensive experience doing college football research, I’ve never come across a collection of info, at least not compiled by an athletic department, so comprehensive on a subject. Nothing else is even close.

Keith’s last name is Meador (I recently swapped emails with him). He was born and raised in Norman, Oklahoma, and became a Sooners fan when Barry Switzer arrived. He’s a web developer by trade, has compiled extensive notes, and his numbers have been cited by school officials and national media.

Keith’s story goes way beyond these introductory details. He deserves his own feature, though that’s a separate article. I mention these details here to let Penn Staters know the stats shared in this article are as legit as can be expected.

First things first: You can visit Penn State’s team page for a complete breakdown of the Nittany Lions’ various poll stats. The Nittany Lions rank in the Top 10 of many categories, not surprising for a program with a rich tradition stretching back more than a century. As impressive as many of the stats are, it’s easy to think Penn State should rank higher in some categories.

For example, Penn State has 909 wins, eighth-most in the history of college football. Alabama and Ohio State, meanwhile, are tied for second with 942. Not a sizable gap. But both the Buckeyes (950) and Crimson Tide (841) rank far ahead of the Nittany Lions in all-time appearance in the AP Poll, as Penn State’s appeared 664 times, good for ninth historically. FYI that Florida is 10th with 641.

It’s an indication of how the pollsters often overlooked Penn State in the days of Rip Engle and Joe Paterno. Beyond the geographic bias, the AP Poll previously listed only 20 teams, and for a while only 10.

Evan Royster, Penn State’s all-time leading rusher (3,932) starred for the Nittany Lions as they were ranked in the AP Poll for 38 straight weeks from 2008-10. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

One example of the emotional human factor in the polls: Penn State finished the 1942 season at a respectable 6-1-1. The Nittany Lions ended that season ranked 19th, in a tie with Holy Cross and Minnesota. Holy Cross, with a record of 5-4-1, was ranked No. 1 by one voter in the final poll. Yes, the Crusaders thumped top-ranked Boston College 55-14 to end the season. However, listing a team with a final 5-4-1 mark as the best in the country tells you a lot about the objectivity, or lack of it, in the early decades of the poll.

Still, the polls are a good barometer when judging the all-time greats of the game, and Penn State is certainly on that list. Here are a few noteworthy numbers for the Nittany Lions and the AP Poll:

  • Penn State was ranked for 58 straight weeks from 2016-20, the third-best mark in program history. There have been nine stretches when the Nittany Lions have been ranked for at least 33 consecutive weeks, with the program record being 121 weeks from 1993-2000.
  • During the last 30 years, Penn State’s been ranked in the poll every week for nearly half the seasons (13). It’s worth noting no Big Ten teams were listed in the AP Poll when the 2020 season began, as the conference started late. Technically, that broke any consecutive streaks, as Big Ten teams weren’t eligible to be ranked.
  • In addition to all-time appearances, Penn State’s also ranked all-time in the Top 10 in preseason rankings (eighth, 48) and final rankings (tenth, 43).
  • All-time, Penn State’s average ranking in the poll is 10.1, with more than half their appearances in the Top 10 (394). The Nittany Lions have been ranked in Top 5 quite a bit, too, with 172 appearances. For the record, Penn State’s occupied the top spot in the poll 21 times and the No. 2 spot on 24 occasions.
  • One of my favorite stats is total points in the AP Poll, where Penn State ranks 11th (482,305), narrowly ahead of Georgia (481,994). In recent years, Penn State surpassed Miami (Fla.).

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Summer Reboot

James Franklin and the Penn State coaching staff met with the media in early June to recap spring practice, look ahead to fall camp, and discuss a host of other topics. One question we asked: How do coaches reset physically, mentally, and emotionally before the grind of fall camp and the season? Photo credit: John Patishnock

There’s an economic theory that suggests the less you have of something, the more valuable it becomes. So for football coaches, free time is pretty close to the top of this list.

In theory, it’s a simple question: How do you enjoy your downtime? However, it takes on plenty of significance when for all intents and purposes, you work seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.

We recently posed this question to James Franklin and several coaches on his staff. Not surprisingly, family time became a theme. And Associate Head Coach Terry Smith, who’s passionate about world traveling, truly knows how to get away.

Check out the video clips below to hear directly from the Penn State coaches.

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