Every school has its weird traditions, and Penn State is no exception. Some of these are unique and some of them are similar to those at other schools, but all of them are very Penn State.
Visiting the Lion Shrine
Located in the northwest corner of campus, near the Nittany Lion Inn and Rec Hall, the Lion Shrine is where you go and take a picture when you first visit campus and again when you graduate. In between, it’s just staring at you with its cold, round, stone eyes. As a gift from the class of 1940, it’s been around a while, and now it’s even part of the school logo. Maybe it should be part of the athletic logo too, since it looks more like a lion than a chipmunk.
Penn State students guard the Lion Shrine every homecoming weekend because in 1966, some Syracuse students painted it orange, and you know we can’t let that happen again.
There’s a lot of open space in the middle of Pennsylvania, and that makes Penn State one of the top tailgating spots in college football. The open fields around Beaver Stadium allow for much of the festivities to occur on grass, and that’s a luxury for a New Jersey kid who grew up tailgating on asphalt outside of Giants Stadium. Grass is simply a superior surface for burgers and beers. Stumbles are more forgiving and your football is less likely to bounce into someone’s grill. Back when I was a student, they outlawed charcoal and some policemen came by and put out our grill because they are no fun. Also, once I left some leftover patties in my trunk during a game and my car smelled like beef for a couple of semesters.
The “We Are” chant
The babyface version of the origin story involves the Nittany Lions taking a stand against racism by refusing to travel to a game at Miami without their two African-American players. In reality, the iconic cheer was created in 1977 and was inspired by Ohio State’s “O-H-I-O.” Either way, the “We Are” chant is as loud and obnoxious as any in the nation, and it sounds amazing when you’re in Beaver Stadium for a night game. Also, that story about Wally Triplett and company is still true, so that’s pretty cool, even if “We Are” doesn’t go back that far.
Since these take place at night after everyone has been tailgating for 12 hours, they really should be called “black out” games, but I digress. Although the first White Out game didn’t take place until 2004 — and it was against Purdue, if you can believe it — it became a hollowed tradition so quickly because of the 2005 game against Ohio State. After two disappointing seasons in 2003 and 2004, the Lions came into the evening 5-0 and ready to reestablish themselves on the national stage. The fans were also looking to make a name for themselves, and they did, creating an atmosphere that Kirk Herbsreit called the best in the country.
Throwing your friend into the air
This is really a Notre Dame thing, so we shouldn’t do it, but everyone eventually does. After every Penn State touchdown, a bunch of students throw a friend in the air one time for each point that the Lions have scored. Usually the person being hoisted is a young woman, but if you have a man as light an aerodynamic as my friend Alan, that works just as well.
During the week, the tailgating fields are used for flag football and soccer games. Pretty much every organization on campus has a flag football team, so you’re bound to find yourself involved in the pigskin madness at some point if you’re a full-time student. I’ve never been more jealous of someone wearing a t-shirt than when I see someone wearing a “Penn State Intramural Champions” print. I think I’d rather have one of those than a Super Bowl ring.
There are many bars in downtown State College, but perhaps none are as famous as Phyrst. It’s a cozy underground Irish pub that’s dark and smelly. The great cover band Go Go Gadjet used to play there back in the day on Sunday nights. One evening I was walking outside on Beaver Avenue and I saw some drunk literally being thrown out of the place and onto the sidewalk. Phyrst is also one of the only places that let you drink at midnight on your 21st birthday, so I hope that’s still the case.
Attending basketball games
Just kidding! No one does this, even when the team is not terrible like last year. Only the true sports dorks go watch Penn State hoops. The good news is that you don’t have to hustle to get good seats, parking is always available, and getting home is a snap. That’s no joke when the game starts at 9:00 p.m. because of ESPN2.
If you do your undergrad at Penn State, you’ll have at least one class in this building, which is just a bunch of lecture halls smashed together. Penn State is a large, state university with lots of students, and this structure was built to accommodate as many of them at the same time as possible. I didn’t have a lot of fun there, except that one time a comedy troupe put on a live performance of South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut.
Going back after you graduate
Making friends with younger students pays major dividends after one graduates. Nowadays I have to find a hotel to go to a game or just drive back home the same day. That’s no fun. Back when I was a younger alumnus, I just crashed at my brother’s off-campus apartment and pretended I was back in school for the weekend. Now that I was making a salary, I was kind of a big deal.