On September 30th, the Nittany Lions will play Indiana in Happy Valley, and they will do so in their new throwback Nike uniforms. The various elements of the uniforms are reflecting upon the organization’s proud past, linking these moments to the team’s bright future. What you may not know is that they are echoing specific moments in the history of this storied program.
To start with, let’s list out the main elements of the throwback uniforms, and then the historic moments that they are linked to. When the Lions take the field against Indiana, their throwbacks will include numbers on the helmets, grey facemasks, a stripe on the pants, a stripe on the sleeve, white cleats, inscription on the inside collar, block numbers, among other things. These aspects pay tribute to some iconic seasons and moments in Penn State’s history.
— Penn State Football (@PennStateFball) June 15, 2017
National Championship Seasons
Obviously, some of the greatest moments of any college football program are when and if they win National Championships. Penn State has had two undisputed National Championships in 1982 and 1986. The common uniform elements between these two years are the grey facemasks and the white stripe on the sleeves, two parts that are also common among many other iconic PSU seasons. Thoughts of these uniforms bring back images of players carrying Joe Paterno off the field in celebration (no tears now).
In addition to ’86, the Lions have had four other undefeated seasons in the past 50 years: 1968, 1969, 1973, and 1994. Penn State’s last undefeated season came in 1994, when the Penn State uniforms still donned the white stripe on the sleeve. The grey facemasks were worn in ‘68 and ’69. Also in ’68 and ‘69, players had their numbers on their helmets, an aspect that was a part of the Penn State uniform all the way through the ’73 undefeated season as well. You will also remember the ’73 season as the year of Penn State’s only Heisman Trophy winner, John Cappelletti, who wore the now retired #22 on his back, as well as on his helmet.
1979 Sugar Bowl
The Sugar Bowl on January 1, 1979 (following the ’78 season) pitted the #1 undefeated Nittany Lions against Bear Bryant’s #2 Alabama team, where the winner was pretty much assured an undisputed National Championship, a matchup for the ages. Unfortunately, Penn State lost 14-7 to the Tide, but it marked one of the only times in their history that Penn State wore white cleats instead of black. Oh yeah, they wore grey facemasks that day too (noticing a theme with those facemasks).
1959 Liberty Bowl
Finally, the inscription on the inside collar of the throwback jerseys will read “Penn State 1959.” This is the year that the Lions played in the inaugural Liberty Bowl game in Philadelphia, PA. Rip Engle’s Penn State squad defeated Alabama 7-0 in what was Bear Bryant’s first bowl game as head coach of the Crimson Tide. The uniforms worn that day by the Lions are the closest to what they will be wearing against Indiana on Saturday. They had the numbers on the helmets, grey facemasks, stripes on both the pants and sleeves. Even the block numbers on these uniforms will be reminiscent of that day.
The Penn State football program is steeped in the traditions of the past. Many may think that their existing uniforms are already traditional, with no logos on the helmets, no names on the jerseys, the blue shirts, white pants, black shoes, that there is no need for throwbacks. That may be true, however, the well thought out elements incorporated for the Indiana matchup are a nice tasteful flashback to the past Penn State generations. Between the championships, undefeated seasons, and iconic Bowl Games, here’s hoping that reflecting these proud successes of the past in today’s team will bring some good luck for this year’s squad, as well as for a bright future. We Are.
About the Author:
Dan Machen works in Product Lifecycle Management at Electronic Arts in Redwood City, California. A 2003 Penn State graduate, Dan is a huge fan of Penn State and of all sports. He can often be found watching sports on his TV, iPad, and laptop simultaneously.