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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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

Mike Stella’s Rare Strength

As a member of Penn State’s 2018 recruiting class and one of the best high school tight ends in the country, Pat Freiermuth (above, left) knows his audience. So when he tweeted recently encouraging his followers to check out a short documentary film, he made sure to mention that the film’s subject, Mike Stella, is a Penn Stater.

Stella ’05 (right) is a strength and conditioning coach who works with young athletes in the greater Boston area. That’s how he linked up with Freiermuth, but it turns out the blue-and-white connections here run even deeper than the bond between one alum and one soon-to-be Lion.

Stella didn’t suit up for the Nittany Lions, but as a former student manager for the team, he’s an integral part of the Penn State football family. That’s all the more true considering what he had to overcome to get there. Continue reading

First Time’s a Charm

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“Last night was my first Penn State game…”

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!

Continue reading

Max Hamilton Gets in the Zone

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We first met Max Hamilton last month in West Lafayette, where she was tailgating with family after the Nittany Lions’ win at Purdue. Max doesn’t miss a Penn State game, home or away, a level of dedication that has everything to do with maternal pride: Her son is standout wide receiver DaeSean.

Max is a former Marine whose dedication Continue reading

One Step Away

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For the 1985 Nittany Lions, an unbeaten regular season was tarnished by an Orange Bowl loss, and overshadowed by a perfect season in 1986. Thirty years on, we look back at one of the great—but largely forgotten—teams in Penn State history.

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As Massimo Manca remembers it, the pivotal moment in Penn State’s 1985 season came rather early.

On opening day, to be exact.

“I think the turning point was that very first game against Maryland,” Manca ’87 says now. “Nobody had us picked to win that game. That’s when we realized: We could beat anybody.”

The Nittany Lions’ long-awaited return to Maryland this week brings to mind Continue reading

John Black and “The Blood Bowl”

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As he starts his 40th season in charge of The Football Letter, we look back at the time John Black starred on the field in Penn State’s biggest rivalry.

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It was a legendary performance made all the more impressive given the injury that almost kept him out of action.

According to the pregame write-up in the Nov. 25, 1958 issue of The Daily Collegian, quarterback “Joltin’ Johnny” Black suffered—and we warn you, this is difficult reading—an “acute hangnail on the third finger of his throwing hand.” Continue reading