Every autumn, central Pennsylvania echoes with the roar of tens of thousands of fans cheering on the Nittany Lions of Penn State University. Boasting a history replete with All-Americans, bowl game triumphs, and memorable moments, Penn State football stands apart as one of the most storied programs in all of collegiate sports.
Penn State's football program originated in the late 1880s, just as the young sport was taking shape on sandlots and fields across the nation. The team from State College, Pennsylvania, debuted with a perfect record in 1887—two wins and no losses in a home-and-away series with in-state rival Bucknell. From there, Penn State grew to establish itself as a dominant football powerhouse.
In Penn State Football: The Complete Illustrated History, authors Barry Wilner and Ken Rappoport explore the early years of Nittany Lions fortunes and misfortunes on the gridiron and its emergence as a national power in the 1940s and 1950s. The legacy of Penn State football took its most significant turn in 1966, when a 39-year-old assistant coach named Joseph Vincent Paterno took the reins as head coach—a position JoePa has held for forty-two years and counting.
Despite three perfect seasons and fourteen bowl appearances in fifteen years, a national championship eluded Paterno until the 1980s, when the Lions captured two titles in five years. The decision to join the Big Ten in 1993 catapulted Penn State to a new level of prominence, and the school quickly established itself by winning the conference crown and a Rose Bowl victory in its second season in the league.
After nearly half a century on the job, Paterno has won more college football games than any other Division I coach in history. He is the embodiment of Penn State football and an icon of the sport. And through it all, JoePa has helped rally the Nittany Nation to come out by the tens of thousands to cheer on the team in the historic confines of Beaver Stadium.