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Beloved Penn State Football Traditions: Which Ones Will James Franklin Keep?

by on February 13, 2014 11:00 PM

We … Are. Singing the Alma Mater. Push-ups by the Nittany Lion.

Flips (and sometimes slips) by the drum major. Tailgating. WhiteOuts.

They are staples of Penn State football that have – and will – survive the test of time. And tests of recent times.

They transcend the head coach and even wins and losses. So, what better day to reinforce the love Penn State fans profess for these timeless traditions than V-Day? But there is a flip side. With a new head football coach, will any go by the wayside?

The aforementioned traditions are safe … I think. Overall, though, there are about 15 or so Penn State major football customs that James Franklin could conceivably alter or even eliminate. Could. Franklin promised when he was hired that he would honor and embrace Penn State’s traditions and maybe start a few of his own (see: Event, Signature).

“As you guys know, and I think you’ve seen it since we’ve arrived here,” Franklin said last month, when announcing his coaching staff, “we are going to show tremendous respect for our traditions and for our history and for our past. That’s very, very important that we understand our past so we can embrace the present and work towards our future.”

With that as a backdrop, let’s take a look at the biggest, most firmly entrenched and/or important traditions loved by Penn State fans and then ponder their status under Franklin. (Odds of being changed follow each item, in bold face. )

1. Names on jerseys. Huge. Bill O’Brien added them in 2012 as a reward to the players who stayed through the NCAA sanctions. Many older fans like ’em because it makes spectating easier. Purists and historians aren’t so sure. And new guys, like incoming potential Nittany Lions, like the literal name recognition. Coaches, recruiters and promoters – that would be James Franklin – say they haven’t made up their minds. “Yeah, we've had a lot of discussion and thought about that,” Franklin said a few weeks ago. “But we'll make that decision, and we’ll have an announcement when the time is right….” Odds Franklin keeps the names on: 1-1.

2. Plain helmets. O’Brien acknowledged Mike Mauti’s role in the ’12 season by adding a No. 42 to the players’ helmets in the season-ender two years ago, after Mauti was injured the week before. In Joe Paterno’s early years, there were also numbers on the helmets, albeit not as big as Mauti’s. The most famous may be the No. 22 on the side of Heisman winner John Cappelletti’s helmet, if only because photos of Cappy are more prevalent than anyone else’s if that year. Odds against: 7-1.

3. The uniforms. White, plain, distinctive. Penn State is not Oregon or Maryland (yuck!). Odds against changes in 2013: 30-1. Minor changes down the road: 5-1.

4. Blue team buses to Beaver Stadium on game day. This draws thousands and thousands of fans along the route and at the south gate -- and rightfully so. It’s a contained spectacle, watching the gladiators enter the coliseum. Odds againstchanging: 2,014-1.

5. Football Eve pep rally in Beaver Stadium the night before the home opener. Paterno embraced it, O’Brien tolerated it in the first year (with a 30 second speech) and discontinued it last season. It’s tailor-made for Franklin. Odds it returns on the eve of the big Akron clash: 1-4.

6. Rec Hall pep rally(ies). Paterno, wearing a cardigan sweater in later years, would swing a towel over his head to excite the crowd. Players, sitting courtside on bleachers, chuckled and shook their heads. Odds it returns at least once: 1-1.

7. Post-game victory bell. Easy one. It’ll stay. Now, how many times the Penn State players will ring it is up for grabs, with seven home games against (in order) Akron, UMass, Northwestern, Ohio State, Maryland, Temple and Michigan State. Over/under: 4.5 games.

8. Nittanyville. The student encampment outside gate A to get front row seats is a staple that will remain, no matter what. Formerly Paternoville, when a change to the more generic Nittanyville was under consideration, I asked O’Brien for his thoughts. (I’m adviser for the student group that runs the show, which is an “official” campus organization.) “I don’t care,” O’Brien said characteristically, “just don’t call it O’Brienville.” It’ll keep its current moniker, for sure. Odds Franklin will visit more often than his predecessors: Bank on it. Geez, I can see the guy bedding down for part of an evening. Seriously. The kids hope, I bet, he brings Twitter-monster and OL coach Herb Hand.

9. Stadium music. Yeah, there will be music. P.J. Mullen has done an admirable job of blending the old and new, the recorded music and the Blue Band. Glad to see Sweet Caroline is back, BTW. But this is the kind of stuff you’d think Franklin would dance to. Odds Franklin will offer his own mix tape: 3-1. And if that’s the case, don’t be surprised if he includes the No. 1 hit his senior year at East Stroudsburg -- R. Kelly’s "Bump ’N Grind."

10. Coaches Caravan. An official poster handed out at the signing day pep rally in BJC (why was non-student admission $5, anyway?) promised that the CC would be back for Year Three. And why not? I’ve been to over half the stops the past two years and it is wildly popular. O’Brien didn’t get enough credit for being an engaging, funny and a strong presence during the past two years – especially given all that was going on at Penn State. He was an ambassador for all of Penn State. And he did dozens of media appearances. I remember one in the Lehigh Valley last year, with just four people. One was Blue White Illustrated columnist Nate Bauer, who was literally at every stop, and another was me. Still, even after seeing both of us for like three days straight and at times twice in a day, OB couldn’t have been better in time and content. Odds of CC3: Sure thing.

11. Autographs at the Blue-White Game. Paterno saw the spring scrimmage as a celebration of Penn State, even holding his presser before the game. O’Brien took it much more seriously, although he was mic’ed up for an offensive series. Odds Franklin will bring back the autograph session: 3-1. That Franklin will be mic’d: 1-3.

12. Thursday night radio show. Odds of Franklin going on-air: Guaranteed. To the tune of $2.2 million.

13. Tuesday afternoon press conference in Beaver Stadium. A longtime staple in time, date and place for both Paterno and O’Brien. Franklin had his press conference as part of “Media Monday.” Odds against moving to Mondays: 7-1.

14. Uplighting Athletes’ summertime event. This is an incredible charity run by Penn State’s football players. The night of the Signature Event, Nittany Lions Jesse James, Mike Wiand, Deron Thompson and Anthony Zettel – among others – were accepting donations and signing autographs. O’Brien took the event from Holuba Hall to the lacrosse stadium and suggested that some events be changed. Attendance took off. Odds that Franklin against messing with a great thing: 1,000-1. That he’ll try to push a big tire himself: 2-1.

15. Linebacker U continues. Greg Buttle, Shane Conlan, Ed O’Neil, John Skorupan, Charlie Zapiec, Jack Ham, Dennis Onkotz,K urt Allerman, Andre Collins, LaVar Arrington, Brandon Short, Paul Posluszny, Dan Connor, Sean Lee, NaVorro Bowman and Mauti. Among current linebackers, Mike Hull has been hounded by injuries and Brandon Bell is only a sophomore, but you never know. New linebacker coach Brent Pry gets it; his Twitter handle is @CoachPry_LBU. Odds of more great LBs: A lock.

16. Odds I missed something: Sure thing.

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Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979. He is a senior lecturer in Penn State's College of Communications and teaches a pair of classes in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism: “Sports Writing” and “Introduction to the Sports Industry.” He created and taught for several years the Center’s course on “Joe Paterno, Communications and The Media.” Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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