Either because of or in spite of this unusual experiment in participatory democracy, the Nittany Lions managed to win a majority of their games, but once they passed the hat and hired their first man with a playbook and a whistle, the program began to take shape.
Problem was, for the first 30 years the Lions slogged along in mediocrity, beating the in-state versions of the Little Sisters of the Poor, but usually falling short once they stepped outside that comfortable realm. This began to change when Hugo Bezdek took over the team in 1918 and quickly put together a string of successful seasons against a somewhat tougher schedule, but in spite of the Lions’ fine record, they were still being overshadowed by the monsters of the day, in particular the mighty duo of California and Notre Dame, both of which lost football games about as often as the Republicans lose elections in Utah.
So in order to get fuller attention, in 1925 the coach Bezdek invited Knute Rockne’s fearsome South Bend squad into Happy Valley for an early November showdown. The defending national champion Ramblers (as Notre Dame was then known) had recently completed a 16-game winning streak, so it was perhaps understandable that many Penn State fans were privately looking to chalk this one up to experience.
But instead of bending over in submission, the Nittany Lions took advantage of a western Pennsylvania monsoon, and matched the Irish mudpie for mudpie, punt for punt, dropped pass for dropped pass, and missed field goal after missed field goal. It wasn’t the prettiest sight in the world for the 25,000 rain soaked spectators, but since in those days very few teams could fight the mighty Rocknes to a scoreless standstill, there weren’t many in that shivering crowd who were ready to look that gift horse in its mud-filled mouth.
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