Updated Landing Spot

Capturing the sights from game day has been a key component of The Football Letter for a long time. Check out the updated Football Letter landing page for more information about the member benefit. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

One of our favorite and most popular episodes of Football Letter Live last season featured our legendary team of editor John Black ’62 and photographer Steve Manuel ’82, ’92g. The duo discussed the way they approach covering the football team and the in-depth collaboration that goes into each edition of The Football Letter.

There were also plenty of laughs.

As someone who’s been incredibly fortunate to travel and work with both John and Steve over the years, I’ve gotten to know them a little bit. Their tireless dedication has been inspiring to see, as there have been many early mornings, late nights, rental cars, and connecting flights. Through it all, you always get the sense there’s no place else they’d rather be or anything else they’d rather be doing, and that enthusiasm makes a difference. In a lot of ways, their passion comes through in The Football Letter, and I’m confident many alumni and fans would agree with me.

There’s a lot of thought, energy, and effort that goes on behind the scenes, and on the episode, they shared some memories and stories, along with many of Steve’s most memorable photos. If you missed the episode or want to check it out again, you can see it on our YouTube page.

Along these lines, we recently updated The Football Letter landing page, thanks to some wonderful team members we have at the Alumni Association who oversee and maintain our website. The updated page shares more about John and Steve, along with links for additional stories and details on the two and their accomplishments. There’s also some info on Ridge Riley ’32, who started The Football Letter in 1938. Ridge’s achievements were so vast that University Libraries has a collection of his papers on file.

Stay tuned this fall for more of everything you enjoy about The Football Letter. The season opener will be here before you know it.

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.

Continuing to connect alumni to the football program

Penn State opens the 2021 season at Wisconsin on Saturday, Sept. 4. The game is scheduled for a noon (ET) kickoff. Photo credit: John Patishnock

It’s August in Happy Valley. Finally. It’s that time of year.

The significance of the upcoming football season has created even more excitement than usual, with fans returning to Beaver Stadium and the promise of another potential run at the Big Ten title for the Nittany Lions. Of course, that’s for fans to discuss. James Franklin and his team are focused on getting 1 percent better every day, and when you look at the results during Franklin’s tenure in Happy Valley, that approach has worked. Part philosophical, part logistical, with an emphasis on laser focus on the task at hand.

For the team, that next task is the start of fall practice for the 2021 season, happening today. Then tomorrow, Franklin and the team’s three coordinators will each address the state of the program and answer questions during the team’s annual media day at Beaver Stadium.

Everything’s set to start around lunchtime, with on-field interviews afterward with nearly everyone in the program available for Q&As. The on-field interviews are one of my favorite times of the year. Players are certainly focused, though there’s also an inherently relaxed feel. Have an off-beat question for a player, such as “What’s your favorite restaurant in town,” or “Who’s the best dancer on the team?” Media day is the time to ask. Those really aren’t the types of questions you ask players when the team is preparing to play Ohio State or Michigan.

Still, there’s plenty of chances to gain real insight, often in 1-on-1 or small-group settings with the players and coaches. It’s also an opportunity to introduce yourself and see how much the players enjoy spending time with another. There’s joking, usually lots of smiles, and you also need to keep an eye out if you’re handling a camera. Sometimes players will try to playfully distract a teammate during an interview by squeezing a water bottle nearby. Seriously, it’s happened more than once.

We’ve got plenty planned for you this fall with The Football Letter. John Black ’62 will share his invaluable insight each week in the member-benefit Monday email, and world-class photographer Steve Manuel ’82, ’92g is behind the lens again this fall, capturing images that bring John’s words to life. We’re also continuing the game day email sent each Saturday to members and nonmembers, and that’ll include a game preview, that week’s episode of The Football Letter Live — which will be hosted by myself and our CEO Paul Clifford ’20g — and other exclusive features from the blog.

Also worth noting: We’re adding significant video coverage this year, starting at media day and continuing throughout the season. We’ll take you onto the field and show you what it feels like to be at Beaver Stadium on game day, share interview clips, and highlight why Penn State football is so special, for many reasons both on and off the field. My colleague and former Daily Collegian sportswriter Vince Lungaro ’18 will be onsite at media day, along with myself, John and Steve, so keep an eye on our channels this weekend and in the coming weeks for all the sights and sounds.

Speaking of The Football Letter Live, you can now register for the entire season’s worth of shows, for free. Sign up today on our website, and you can click the Guest Lineup tab to see the schedule. Some of Penn State’s all-time great players will be on, along with inspiring volunteer leaders. We’re introducing a new virtual platform, which allows us to have a running ticker and on-screen banners, and there are a lot of fun times in store on all of The Football Letter channels this fall.

The opportunities extend beyond Happy Valley, as we’re hosting a free pregame event at each of the team’s five away games. Registration is free and also required, and you can learn more and sign up today. Whether it’s virtual or on the road, or if you’re replying to or sharing one of our social media posts, we hope to see and hear from our alumni this football season. Penn State football unites our Nittany Lion global community, so everything is all the more special if you’re along for the ride.

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.

See you soon, Cotton Bowl

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We’re heading to Texas in a few days for the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, where Penn State will vie for its third 11-win season in four years. It’s been a while since the Nittany Lions have achieved that level of success, and with James Franklin recently signing a contract extension and bringing in another Top-15 recruiting class, this level of success very well could continue.

As Franklin often says, it’s a group effort, including alumni, fans, and lettermen, the work that goes on behind the scenes by the football coaches and support staff, and the incredible level of dedication that’s put forth by our student-athletes.

As usual, it’s an exciting time for the program and the passionate fan base that supports the Nittany Lions, and that level of bold enthusiasm will be on display this week in Dallas and the surrounding area.

Saturday will be the first time that The Football Letter stalwarts John Black ’62 and Steve Manuel ’82, ’92g will cover the Cotton Bowl. Ridge Riley detailed the last time Penn State played in the Cotton Bowl in 1975, in the next-to-last year that Riley oversaw the publication. We’ve uncovered a few Associated Press photos from the victory over Baylor that year; one is included in this post, and we’ll share a few others this week on our social channels.

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Joe Paterno met with reporters at a press conference on Dec. 28, 1974, prior to the Cotton Bowl. Also pictured: Baylor head coach Grant Teaff. Photo credit: Associated Press.

If you’re traveling into town for the game, you’re invited to attend a number of events that the Alumni Association is hosting, including a volunteer service project. You can find complete details on Penn State News.

Notably, the morning of the game, we’re hosting the official Cotton Bowl pep rally, from 8:30-9:00 a.m. It’ll take place right by AT&T Stadium, within the Goodyear Huddle Up Fan Fest located in the Miller Lite (West) Plaza. The pep rally will feature the Blue Band, Penn State Cheerleaders, the Nittany Lions, the Lionettes, and special guests.

We hope to see you there, and we look forward to meeting alumni and fans during our trip. We’ll have additional content on the blog later this week, including coverage of our events. Tag the Alumni Association and The Football Letter Twitter accounts, and let us know if you’re in town or if you see a cool photo or interesting story idea. 

We Are …

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

Not yet an Alumni Association member? Click here.

From The Archives: Penn State V. Rutgers (2015)

PSU-Rutgers 2015 (Photo by Steve Manuel)

Penn State’s inaugural Stripe Out was a huge hit with fans, who watched the Nittany Lions upend Rutgers 28-3. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Even if you’ve been covering Penn State for 40-plus years, as John Black has, you still have an opportunity to see something new.

That’s the beauty of college football, especially in Happy Valley.

Over the years, the pre-game theatrics at Beaver Stadium have intensified, much to the delight of fans. Recruits, also, have taken notice, with James Franklin bringing in highly ranked classes the last few years.

While the atmosphere for home games has always been one of the best in the country, the operations and marketing teams for football has elevated the environment at Penn State into something that is truly, to borrow a phrase, “unrivaled.”

All of this leads us back to Black, the dean of football reporters. As the 1962 Penn State graduated surveyed the scene at Beaver Stadium a few moments prior to kick-off against Rutgers in 2015, he saw something he never had before at Beaver Stadium.

That’s saying something.

Comebacks and blow-outs, amazing plays and unexplainable gaffs, spectacular shows from the Blue Band, weather delays, fans storming the field, and pretty much anything else imaginable.

But a stripe out? Nope. Never.

Meaning, on his way to writing more than 500 consecutive editions of The Football Letter, John Black scratched off another item on his seemingly empty Penn State bucket list in the first month of the 2015 season.

Black had seen a stripe out before, at Iowa in 2012, though this was the first such occurrence at Penn State — the annual game has grown to be one of the most visually striking images each football season.

Count Black among the many fans who’ve embraced the new tradition.

“It gave a very neat effect,” Black said this week, recalling the game at Iowa seven years ago. “I thought, ‘Gee, I hope Penn State does that soon,’ and they did.”

The Nittany Lion version debuted three years later, during a night kickoff against Rutgers in September. Penn State eased to a 28-3 victory with two touchdowns from Saquon Barkley, a score each from Akeel Lynch and DeAndre Thompkins; and a stout defensive showing.

Enjoying his customary view on the west side of the stadium, Black witnessed the stands fill up with coordinated fans intent on willing their Nittany Lions to victory.

“Sitting in their blue-or-white clad sections, the fans themselves were part of the first-ever Beaver Stadium Stripe Out Show, as the last sunset glow faded behind the press box,” Black described in The Football Letter.

PSU-Rutgers 2015 (Photo by Steve Manuel)

Akeel Lynch broke away for 75-yard touchdown run before halftime. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Additional details he authored in that issue mentioned Blue Band Director Greg Drane leading the band’s pre-game routine for the first time (the previous week’s game against Buffalo featured heavy rain and the band didn’t have the opportunity to thrill fans before kickoff) and the drum major flips, along with performances from the majorettes and Lionettes.

The types of particulars that alumni and fans have read from Black since 1976. Perhaps overlooked by some, though always top-of-mind for the author of The Football Letter, who knows his audience.

“I don’t know that you would read that sort of thing in the standard commercial publications, but to me, it’s part of the whole experience and a significance part of it,” Black said. “That’s what I’m trying to convey, a special sense of the identity of Penn State alumni and their participation in the whole game day experience; have a part in it, have their presence mean something. So, to me, it’s an important thing.”

John Black and “The Blood Bowl”

JB Blood Bowl

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

From The Archives: Wisconsin

Photo by Steve Manuel

Photo by Steve Manuel

“The cheers and excitement in that final post-game locker room were as loud and jubilant as any in Beaver Stadium history, because these loyal, dedicated Penn Staters had competed for something more important than a bowl game or conference title. They had competed for the honor of their team and their university.” Continue reading

From The Archives: Minnesota

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Allen Robinson’s stunning displays in recent weeks have Penn State fans wondering where he ranks among the best receivers in program history. A look back at the Nittany Lions’ first meeting with Minnesota—20 years ago this fall—reminds us that in any such conversation, Bobby Engram’s name must be prominently included. Continue reading