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Jay Paterno: Nittany Nation – Show Tide Class, Not Crass

by on September 08, 2011 12:30 AM

From 1975 to 1990, great inter-sectional rivals Penn State and Alabama clashed on the football field a dozen times. The outcome of no less than seven of those contests was decided by seven points or less.

Win or lose, each team’s fan base left the game with an admiration for the other program and for the friendliness of the other team’s fans.

Penn State fans encountered true Southern hospitality in Tuscaloosa last year. Now, in the spirit of sportsmanship, I hope all Penn Staters will return the favor.

So this weekend, Penn Staters, remember -- “Class, Not Crass.”

Do not allow the actions of a few undo an earned reputation of class with which the vast majority of Penn State fans have conducted themselves over the years.


The Penn State alma mater states, “May no act of ours bring shame to one heart that loves thy name.” Let’s keep it this way.

This weekend, as our nation remembers the terrible moments and loss that occurred 10 years ago on Sept. 11, the least -- and best – the fans of the Nittany Lions and the Crimson Tide can do for each other is display sportsmanship and hospitality.

We may be rooting for different teams, but when it is over we are fellow citizens and people who share a love of country and college football.

That is how the A-List programs like Penn State and Alabama should do it. A-List programs whose name alone...Penn State, Alabama...conjure up images and names. And they are names that are carved into the granite edifice of America’s truly unique game -- college football.

The similarities do not end there.


If college football were a neighborhood, Alabama and Penn State would be those folks who have been cornerstones of the community for decades, carrying themselves with poise and dignity, modestly serving as role models for all.

They dress the part too, featuring a refined wardrobe. When the images of Nittany Lion and Crimson Tide football come to mind, the uniform is almost always the same.

When these teams step onto the Beaver Stadium field on Saturday the uniforms they wear will be like a classic black tux. A black tux always looks good — and these uniforms are sharp and timeless.

These are essentially the same uniforms these two teams wore in the 1979 Sugar Bowl (I know, Penn State wore white and Alabama crimson jerseys…but you get the point). It’s a throwback game without anyone having to make a big deal out of it.

Lately, in the name of marketing, college football teams have been showing up to big events wearing uniforms that rate like the orange and powder blue tuxes worn in “Dumb and Dumber.”

They may seem cool in the moment, but when we look back years from now, well…

For those of us old enough to remember the 1980s there were those who thought big hair, acid-wash jeans, neon shirts and mullets would forever be the way we dressed and looked. They were trends, momentary flashes-in-the pan, gimmicks.

The latest trend in flavor-of-the-week uniforms is an attempt to manufacture tradition, sell jerseys, get attention and stand out. Comparing the uniforms of Penn State or Alabama to some of the stuff we saw this past weekend is like comparing the style of Ralph Lauren to the meat dress of Lady Gaga.

It is part of that A-list confidence that comes with tradition built over time and not manufactured by an apparel company’s marketing firm.  The more other teams change, the better uniforms like Penn State, Alabama, Texas, USC and Nebraska look. When you turn on the television you never have to ask who is playing. You know. Class, not crass.


The classic Penn State uniform has roots that extend for decades and decades. The shiny black shoes, polished white helmets and crisp blue uniforms were inspired by the New York Yankees. At a World Series game years ago between the Yankees and the St Louis Cardinals, Joe Paterno’s high school coach pointed something out to the young athlete from Brooklyn Prep.

Joe’s coach commented on the Yankees’ appearance, their shoes polished black and shiny, pinstriped uniforms clean and pressed. Then pointed out the Cardinals’ scuffed shoes, wrinkled uniforms and sloppy look. The Yankee uniform exemplified an organization of men committed to excellence in even the smallest details.

New York won the series and the image of Yankee sartorial splendor remained with Paterno years later when he became the head coach at Penn State.

Thursday night, as Penn State’s student managers clean the helmets and polish the shoes inside the Nittany Lion locker room, they will renew a tradition formed in the mind of a man more than 60 years ago.

In the words of that mythical Alabama native and football All-American, Forrest Gump, “Mama always said there's an awful lot you can tell about a person by their shoes."


You can also tell a lot about people by their actions.

This weekend Penn State fans will renew a tradition of class built by more than 23 million fans who have attended football games in Beaver Stadium since 1966, Joe’s first year as head coach.

When the game is kicked off, be loud, get into it, have an impact.

But, please, always maintain the dignity and class that Penn State has shown through its uniforms, through its play on the field and through the actions of a proud fan base that believes in Success with Honor.

State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at
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