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.

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Spider Caldwell Comes Home

Nobody better personifies the loyalty, integrity and pride of Penn State football than Brad “Spider” Caldwell ’86, the longtime football equipment manager who left Happy Valley in 2014 for semi-retirement in Vermont. A health scare and the pull of the place he’d called home for so long brought him back to Beaver Stadium in a new role. Now, he’s here to stay.

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Getting Back in the Game

A freak practice injury four years ago cost Ryan Keiser his football career—and nearly his life. The untold story of how family, teammates, and faith helped him come back.

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Max Hamilton Gets in the Zone

The most fun we’ve ever had on the blog: Max Hamilton, proud mother of DaeSean ’16, had long dreamed of watching a game from the S-Zone, the raucous section in Beaver Stadium’s south end zone organized by the Alumni Association’s Lion Ambassadors. We made it happen for the 2016 home finale against Michigan State. And yes, she had a blast.

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All in the Family

James Franklin often speaks of the Penn State players, coaches, and staff as a “family,” and part of embracing that idea is making the the players’ actual families feel as much a part of the program as possible. Thanks to a number of particularly dedicated parents, that family support is an integral part of the program’s success. For the parents themselves, the tailgates and road trips mean it’s also just a lot of fun.

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There’s plenty more in our blog archives, and plenty more to look forward to as the Nittany Lions kick off the 2018 season. Thanks for following along with us here, and on Twitter. We Are.

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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, when Isaiah Humphries, a safety from the Dallas suburbs of Rowlett, signed on as part of a Nittany Lion recruiting class that ranks among the best in the nation. He’s also the latest to join a proud Penn State legacy of sons who follow fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and older brothers in donning the blue and white

It should go without saying here, of course, but Leonard Humphries ’92 was a standout defensive back for the Nittany Lions in the early ’90s who went on to play in the NFL and CFL. He eventually settled with his family in the Dallas area, a long way from Happy Valley—but, when it came to imagining their kids’ future, not so far out of mind. Isaiah’s mom, Jennifer, shared a childhood keepsake on Twitter this week that spoke to the parents’ hopes, way back when.

Leonard laughs at the memory. “When she found them, I was like, ‘Oh, shoot, I remember those,'” he says. “Who knows when your kid’s a toddler what they’re going to be? But for her to be able to pull those out, and remember saying ‘maybe one day he’ll follow in your footsteps,’ it’s definitely a great honor for me.”

Acknowledging how different Penn State is from the university he left 25 years ago, Leonard says it’s the things that haven’t changed that made him excited for his son to follow his path—and confirmed his own connection to his alma mater. “We’re still the university that has guys who are more academically inclined,” he says. “Going to Penn State, you know that you’re going to be challenged in the classroom, and you’re also going to have the opportunity to play great football. It’s still the Penn State mindset. I don’t think that’s changed.”

As for the program itself, Leonard says, “The people, the coaching staff, are just very genuine people. And the team itself, they’re good guys, the kind of guys I’d want my son to be around.”

The same qualities, in other words, that drew Leonard Humphries here as a highly touted recruit all those years ago. Turns out Penn State was more than good enough for his son, too.

 

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.

On the pod, Tony talks about memories from his own playing days, and about the comparisons he sees between the ’93 and ’94 Lions and the 2016 and ’17 Penn State teams. We’ve also got tailgate talk with Dave Young ’97, who previews what he’s cooking up this weekend: a Philly-style roast pork sandwich, and—in a nod to the Hoosiers’ visit—Indiana sugar pies. We can’t wait to dig in.

Thanks for listening. We Are…

 

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, and one of the five brothers—Andre, Gerry, Phil, and Aaron are the others—who suited up for Joe Paterno’s teams from the mid 1980s through the mid ’90s. He’s also got a podcast of his own: You can hear Jason’s take on sports (including the Nittany Lions) on the Game Day Coverage radio show.

Also: We look back on a blowout of Georgia State, look ahead to a big matchup with the Hawkeyes, and chat with members of our Central Iowa chapter.

Thanks for listening. We Are…

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, and now president of the Alumni Association’s Houston Chapter. Anwar talks about his enduring connection to the program, memories of being recruited by a young Maryland assistant named James Franklin, and how he and other Penn Staters in the Houston area are helping in the recovery from Hurricane Harvey. You can find more about the chapter’s efforts on their Facebook page.

We’ve also got some Southern-themed tailgate talk for Georgia State, and our go-to Saturday chef, Dave Young ’97, is making the most of the Peach State connection: Check out these recipes for peach-bourbon barbecue, pimiento mac & cheese, and peaches-and-cream blondies.

Finally, Alumni Association CEO Paul Clifford inspired a trivia contest when he asked if Penn State had ever before faced consecutive teams with the same mascot. Thanks to our online editor and intrepid fact checker Bill DiFilippo ’14, we know the answer. If you can figure it out, respond with the answer in the comments below, or reply to us on Twitter @PSUFBLetter. The first correct answer will be rewarded with something cool from the Hintz Family Alumni Center basement.

Thanks for listening. We Are…

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. Bill’s book is loaded with great anecdotes from his playing days, insightful contributions from his former teammate Todd Blackledge ’83, and a very cool analytics argument that makes the case for the ’82 squad as one of the very best in the history of the game.

One of the most memorable games in that ’82 season was a top-five battle between the Lions and Panthers. Bill will be in town this weekend for a couple of book signings (check the podcast for details) and to reconnect with a few dozen of his teammates, who are back for a reunion celebrating the ’82 title team. Can’t wait to see that legendary squad together again in Beaver Stadium.

We also look back on the season-opening win over Akron, engage in some good-natured trash talk, and dig into tailgating plans with our go-to Saturday chef, Dave Young ’97. Fittingly, Dave has a Western PA-theme planned for this weekend, and he found some inspiration in an old classic: The Alumni Association’s Cookin’ With the Lion cookbook, first published in 1988.

 

Very excited about the chipped ham sandwich, and—sticking with the Pittsburgh theme—Dave’s working up a pierogi salad. And, yes, there’s even a cookie table in the works. Feel free to stop by our tailgate on Saturday—just make sure you bring cookies, and empty Tupperware, of course.

We Are…

All in the Family

Organized, enthusiastic, and relentlessly dedicated, the Penn State Football Parents Association provides quiet but invaluable support for the Nittany Lions—and for each other.

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The tradition started about a year ago, a few hours before last season’s game against Minnesota.

We’ll let Larry Buchholz tell the story:

“Before every game, my wife gives our son a hug before the team goes into the stadium. So we’re there by the south entrance, and there’s Coach Franklin. Usually he’ll high-five a few people and shake hands with recruits, and we happened to be standing right there. So I just reached out with open arms and said, ‘Hey, Coach,’ and we gave each other a big hug and a kiss.”

If you remember how things turned out, you’ll understand why Buchholz’s pregame smooch and embrace became a weekly necessity. Continue reading