Like many Penn Staters, I’m spending a lot more time at home lately. I’m fortunate to be able to work remotely, though there’s also been plenty of cooking, baking, and organizing around the house.
Which leads us to this past weekend.
I was helping my parents with some spring cleaning, when I uncovered three collectible Coca-Cola bottles from the 1980s, commemorating the team’s national championship in 1982.
I remember seeing them in my childhood home, and then understandably, I forgot about them. I always thought they were cool, in a sentimental type of way before so many aspects of sports became commercialized.
My parents thought the bottles were worth bringing to their State College home about 20 years ago, and I’m glad they did. We found them in a side closet in the walk-in pantry, behind cans of paint, various cleaning supplies, clothes, and even an old pair of shoes.
But the bottles were there, still unsealed and looking just as cool as ever.
I snapped a photo of the keepsakes on the kitchen counter and posted it to our Twitter account, asking if anyone else still had these bottles in their collection (similar bottles were also produced in 1986). I figured there’d be a handful of replies, maybe even a few dozen.
Instead, we received nearly 100 responses, and the post generated about 8,000 engagements.
Pretty good for a couple of old Coke bottles.
Many of the responses were detailed, with alumni and fans sharing photos of how and where their championship bottles are displayed in their homes. Just the latest example of Penn State fans displaying their passion.
So, that got us thinking: What other cherished items do Penn State fans have in their memorabilia collections?
Visit us on Facebook and Twitter and reply to our posts at the top of the page. We’re looking forward to seeing your responses, and maybe we’ll even see something new.
Of course, the classics are always good. And timeless.
In the grand scheme of life, sports might be pretty insignificant. Then again, they’re very significant.
In challenging times, sports have always been there to provide a sense of hope for me. A sense that however bad things might be in “the real world,” at least I’ve got a sport to play or a sport to watch. I’d imagine that’s the way it is for a lot of people around the country.
As the difficult circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 virus continue and more sports leagues — professional and amateur — continue to suspend, postpone or cancel their season, it’s hard to fathom that sports, at least for a little while, won’t be there to help us get through the tough times.
When news broke yesterday that the NCAA was canceling all of its remaining winter and spring sports — including the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments — I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sadness.
It was a tough decision, but probably the right decision. The seriousness of this pandemic, obviously, takes precedent. The health of the public is always going to be the top priority.
That doesn’t make the pause on sports easier to stomach.
I’m sad, above all, for the players, particularly senior student-athletes who will miss out on a proper conclusion to their college careers — for many of them, their athletic careers as a whole.
As someone who was an athlete in high school, the end of my playing days were tough to take, but at the very least I got to end it on the basketball court and in the locker room with my teammates.
It’s unfortunate, unfair really, that players like Lamar Stevens won’t get the ending they deserve.
Stevens ends his time in Happy Valley just seven points shy of passing Talor Battle to become the program’s all-time leading scorer, a feat he would have undoubtedly passed in the team’s scheduled Big Ten Tournament game against Indiana.
“Not having any control over it was tough,” Stevens continued on Goodman’s podcast. “Being seven points away from becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer, my heart broke, honestly. I felt like I gave everything I had for this program and this school to get to that point.”
“I wanted to experience that with my teammates and our coaches. Have the Penn State community rally around us for something we haven’t done for nine years. I had a lot of excitement for that. It was something I was really proud of. To see it all end this way, it really hurts.”
As Stevens alluded to, he and the rest of the team miss out on hearing Penn State’s name pop up on CBS on Selection Sunday. The signal that the program’s near decade-long NCAA Tournament drought would be over.
I think about senior members of the Penn State Wrestling team — the moments that Vincenzo Joseph and Mark Hall delivered on the mat in Rec Hall or at the Big Ten Championships or at the NCAA Championships.
Joseph leaves a two-time NCAA Champion and three-time NCAA finalist. His thrilling upset as a freshman over No. 1 ranked Isaiah Martinez in 2017 ( he pinned the heavily favored Illini wrestler) is a signature moment in the already storied history of Penn State Wrestling.
Hall ends his career a three-time Big Ten Champion, three-time NCAA finalist and the 2017 NCAA National Champion at 174 pounds.
They both miss out on their shots to become national champions once more in 2020.
There are senior members of the Penn State Men’s Hockey team, who have helped turn the program from Division I upstart to a Big Ten contender.
Senior Liam Folkes delivered perhaps the greatest moment in the team’s young history. In 2017, he scored the game-winning breakaway goal against Wisconsin in double overtime of the Big Ten Tournament title game.
The 10-man senior class of Brandon Biro, Folkes, Blake Gober, James Gobetz, Will Holtfoster, Peyton Jones, Kris Myllari, Nikita Pavylchev, Denis Smirnov and Nate Sucese, at the very least ended their college careers by capturing the Big Ten regular season title.
But they won’t get the chance to capture another tournament crown or compete for Penn State’s first Frozen Four appearance.
Despite a few early losses, the Men’s Lacrosse team had the talent and firepower to get back to the Final Four and win a national championship. Seniors like Grant Ament, Dylan Foulds and Mac O’Keefe are robbed of that opportunity.
There are names I didn’t mention from the other Penn State winter and spring sports. For the sake of time, I can’t highlight them all specifically here, but there’s no diminishing their impact. They all made their mark in Penn State history.
We will go on. Sports at Penn State and across the globe will resume sometime in the future.
For the time being, though, we must get through all of this without sports to provide us that joy, provide us the hope.
We won’t have the power of Stevens driving to the hoop for a basket or the energy of Hall driving his opponent to the mat for a fall to take us away from the struggles.
More importantly, the players themselves won’t ever get those kinds of experiences again in a Penn State uniform.
The grind of the countless hours, days and even years that they’ve put in for their sport. For many of them, the chance to compete for a conference or national championship is the culmination of all of that hard work. The reward for the effort.
It didn’t end on their terms.
That’s the hardest part to swallow. The abrupt finality of it all. A tough way to be reminded of the significance of sports in difficult times.
There’s plenty of nostalgia that’s conjured up anytime Penn State plays Pitt.
We’ll leave the merits of whether or not this remains a true rivalry game for another time, though we got a chuckle out of uncovering this image of a Penn State-Pitt ticket from the 1967 game at Beaver Stadium.
Five bucks got you a seat. Even adjusting for inflation, that was below the current market rate. We also wouldn’t mind seeing those end zone graphics return, though we’ll leave that decision to the experts who ensure Beaver Stadium’s field is the best in the nation.
University at Buffalo University Libraries/1900 Buffalo football team
Pop Golden figured Penn State would’ve won on a dry field.
If that name doesn’t sound familiar to Nittany Lion football fans, it’s understandable. After all, William “Pop” Golden coached Penn State more than a century ago, and for only three seasons (1900–02).
However, if the 1900 contest against Buffalo is any indicator, he enjoyed an eventful tenure as head coach.
The details of this game are thankfully preserved by the University at Buffalo’s University Archives. We say “thankfully” even though Penn State was tagged with a 10-0 defeat, because the circumstances surrounding the contest are part comical, part impressive, and entirely worth remembering, if only to recognize how far college football has come since its beginning 150 years ago.
So, about the playing conditions:
The game was played on Thanksgiving, with the Buffalo Athletic Field featuring “the worst bog imaginable,” according to the Buffalo Evening News. The outlet also described the season-ending win coming amid “a hard and muddy struggle” in its headline. The New York Times, meanwhile, declared that the gridiron was more fit for water polo than football.
The reason for the undesirable field was that when the Buffalo Railway Company’s scrapers cleared off the snow, they took the turf, too.
Visibility was so bad that players on both sides couldn’t tell who was who. Often, a player would pull who they thought was a teammate from the mud, only to discover they were staring at their opponent.
William “Pop” Golden
Making matters worse for the Nittany Lions, they were placed in a cold room at halftime, resulting in the players coming out stiff in the second half, according to Golden.
He also said: “I think that Penn State would defeat Buffalo on a dry field.”
Golden hoped Penn State-Buffalo would turn into an annual series, though it was another 107 years before the two squads played again — a 45-24 victory for Penn State at Beaver Stadium in 2007.
Chafie Fields’ energy changed on the way to the stadium.
Fields, one of Penn State’s most accomplished wide receivers, says he always tried to avoid all the pageantry that overtook campus and the community leading up to a big game for the Nittany Lions.
The 1999 season opener against Arizona certainly qualified for that category, and Fields took the same approach as the Nittany Lions prepared to host the Wildcats in a matchup of Top-5 teams at Beaver Stadium. In the first-ever (and only) battle between the squads, Penn State and Arizona each entered the game ranked either third or fourth in the two major polls at the time.
Personally, Fields began the season highly motivated, determined to prove he was an elite wideout with explosive playmaking ability. Still, even with ESPN’s College GameDay in town and the college football world centered on State College, Fields saw the contest against Arizona as “just another week for me.”
That was one of many lessons he learned from Joe Paterno: Don’t get caught up in the attention, or as Fields described, “stay out of the lights.”
Though when Saturday morning rolled around, the mood in the air shifted, and Fields noticed. He saw the outpouring of support, and he felt the energy. Sensed it. Saw it. Knew that Happy Valley was about to be rocking, perhaps had been rocking all week.
As the fleet of Blue Buses pulled away from the team hotel and motored toward Beaver Stadium, there was no longer denying that the upcoming contest against Arizona was significant.
“That’s when you realize the magnitude of things, because all the fans were already out there bright and early,” Fields recalled. “The streets were lined with people welcoming us to the stadium — I’m talking the whole way from Toftrees. The streets were lined with fans. That’s when I started to feel the energy, like ‘OK, we’re here.’”
Fields was ready.
A senior standout for the ’99 squad, he scored two touchdowns within the game’s first six minutes in spectacular fashion. First, he caught a 37-yard scoring toss from Kevin Thompson on the game’s opening drive, “twisted away from one defender and outran the rest to the corner of the end zone,” as John Black ’62 wrote in The Football Letter.
The next time the Nittany Lions possessed the ball, Fields raced 70 yards on an inside reverse. As Black explained, Fields made a perfect cut over left tackle, and then ran down the middle of the field for the second score.
“And the rout was on,” Black summarized correctly.
At the time, the third-largest crowd in Beaver Stadium history (97,168) watched Penn State dispatch its West Coast opponent 41-7 in a game that was as much of a blowout as the score indicated: The Nittany Lions led 31-0 at halftime and 41-0 after the third quarter.
It should be noted here: Any story about Fields and 1999 needs to include that a few weeks following the blowout over Arizona, he caught one of the most memorable touchdown passes in Penn State football history: Fields corralled a 79-yard score in the waning minutes to catapult the Nittany Lions past Miami for a road victory over the eighth-ranked Hurricanes (Penn State was ranked third). The highlight prompted a memorable call from legendary play-by-play announcer Fran Fisher, who as Fields crossed the goal line, belted with enthusiasm:
Penn State touchdown! No flags! No flags! No flags!
Fields finished the game against Miami with 177 receiving yards, seventh-best all-time in program history for a single contest. For his career, Fields totaled 88 catches for 1,437 yards, prolific enough to place Fields in the Top 20 all time at Penn State.
Rankings aside with respect to this week’s opponent, a similar situation to the 1999 opener awaits the Nittany Lions on Saturday, with Penn State hosting a first-time opponent that hails from the west.
Penn State and Idaho are set for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff at Beaver Stadium, site of what should be a picturesque backdrop for Labor Day weekend in Happy Valley.
Fields earned a B.S in 1999 from the College of Health and Human Development, and he’s now an accomplished sports agent who’s represented many Penn State lettermen. Anytime he can work with a Penn Stater, “it’s a lot more personal,” he says, and he plans to cheer on the Nittany Lions this season.
That’ll always be true for Fields, a self-described “Penn State loyalist” who hopes to see the Nittany Lions win out and compete in the College Football Playoff. Either way, he’s standing by and ready if he’s ever called upon to serve the team.
“Anything that I can do to support the program, I’ll do,” Fields said. “I’ll be one of the biggest fans. I’ll be rooting for Penn State all year, I’m always going to.”
For more on the TheFootball Letter, including online archives (requires Alumni Association member log-in), click here.
This weekend, tens of thousands of alumni and fans will return to State College, rekindling a lifelong love affair with Penn State. If you’re among the many who are embarking upon the annual fall pilgrimage to Happy Valley, chances are you’ll notice some changes upon arrival.
Construction is ongoing at Willard Building for the state-of-the-art Donald P. Bellisario Media Center, and you can check out picturesque views of Sparks and West Halls from the newly renovated Collaboration Commons in Pattee Library. These remodeled areas have the aim to enhance the student experience, an admirable goal that’s always at the forefront of University administrators’ minds.
The Diner is gone — quite literally — as development has already begun on its replacement, a fast-casual restaurant chain. And if you’re looking to order some wings at The Darkhorse Tavern, well, you’ll have a surprise waiting for you.
These are just a few examples.
However, there’s one thing you can always count on when you come into town for the season opener.
As you stroll across campus or head downtown, the crisp fall-like weather smacks your senses and leaves no doubt: Penn State football has returned to Happy Valley.
That’s the beauty of September (or in this case, August) in Central Pennsylvania.
The Football Letter/Steve Manuel
The town takes on a life of its own and the familiar energy swirls around State College, as the season’s first kickoff awaits on the horizon.
Football, of course, is the reason for alumni and fans descending upon University Park this weekend, as the chase for another 10-win campaign and Big Ten championship begins for James Franklin and the Nittany Lions.
The on-field success is one reason for so much excitement surrounding the upcoming season. Additionally, what makes Penn State football special for so many goes way beyond what happens on the gridiron.
Tailgating. The Blue Band. Stopping by the Nittany Lion Shrine for a photo with family and friends. Each home game weekend is a throwback to your college days, an opportunity to transport yourself back to a time when Dear Old State molded you when you stood at childhood’s gate.
We understand that passion, because we feel the same way.
With The Football Letter blog, we strive to deliver stories and photos that showcase the high level of devotion that Penn State graduates have for their alma mater. If you haven’t already, subscribe to the blog (enter your email address in the box in the lower right-hand corner) and follow us on Twitter, as we’ll highlight the many reasons that distinguish Penn State as one of the premier college football programs in the country.
Or, in Bill O’Brien’s words, why Penn State is “college football heaven.”
The Football Letter/Steve Manuel
Throughout the season, we’ll feature lettermen, speak with players and coaches, and dig into our extensive archives. We’ll also talk with Steve Manuel ’84, ’92g, longtime distinguished photographer for The Football Letter, as he looks back on some of his most memorable photos.
There’s a lot to savor, and we’re looking forward to sharing another season with our readers.
So, if you’re in town this weekend, we invite you to take your time and soak up all the sights, sounds, and smells that elevate State College into the quintessential college town in America.
There really is no place in the world like Happy Valley in the fall.
For the Glory,
— John Patishnock ’05
For more on the TheFootball Letter, including online archives (requires Alumni Association member log-in), click here.
The email hit The Penn Stater magazine inbox the day after the Big Ten title game, sent by a self-described “life-long PSU fan” and former Marine named Eric Norwood:
Last night was my first Penn State game. I took my dad — also a lifelong fan, also his first game… I feel so proud to be somewhat a part of this student body. Living and dying on each play with thousands of Penn State students, fans, and alums was definitely an experience I’ll never forget. I still have goosebumps and can’t stop singing Hey Baby 😂. Thanks everyone for a fantastic season and night!