Like us, we wouldn’t be surprised if many out you out there were shocked at Penn State’s loss to Ohio University, but what frankly surprised us even more than the roster-strapped Nittany Lions’ defeat last Saturday was the fact that they were playing the Bobcats in the first place. No disrespect intended to the Athens 11, but the blue and white crew from State College isn’t the sort of team that usually shows up even in the first weeks of the Bobcats’ schedule.
But from a 21st century perspective, a meeting between the Nittany Lions and the Bobcats, no matter how farfetched it might have seemed just a few short years ago, is nothing compared to the thought of mighty Ohio State taking on the University of Pennsylvania of the Ivy League. It would be the equivalent of the Pittsburgh Steelers taking on the BCS champion without 20 pound weights attached to their ankles.
And yet there are many millions of people living today who were around when those two teams met not once but three times, spanning the course of two decades from 1932 to 1953. After the year of that final contest, the Ivy League eliminated all football scholarships and did away with Spring practice, thereby immediately removing its teams from big time competition. But during those first two matchups in the early 1930s, there were Ivy League schools routinely competing on the highest levels.
All that is but a way of introducing what may be the most spectacular representation of the symbolic William Penn figure we have ever seen on any program cover. And to add a bit of irony, it appeared not on a Penn home game program, but on a cover illustrated by the great Ohio State artist Frederick Machetanz. Towering over the campus and the town like a Paul Bunyon figure, he rings his enormous bell to summon every man, woman and child to Ohio Stadium for the game.
Yes, the Buckeyes won the game handily, and in truth the freezing temperature and blustery wind kept the Ohio State Homecoming crowd down to a figure too embarrassing to mention. (The Depression may have also had something to do with that.) But while 80 years later the game itself is long forgotten, this glorious Machetanz illustration reminds us of a time when Penn stood up and took on the best teams that the country had to offer.
Click here to buy a poster of this program cover.