Blue-White Weekend 2014
This weekend's annual intrasquad scrimmage offers a fresh look at the Nittany Lions after more than four football-less months in Happy Valley.
Aside from tulips blooming throughout University Park, there may be no better sign that spring has sprung at Penn State than the Blue-White Game.
Like the flowers that bring new life to campus after a harsh winter, the annual intrasquad scrimmage offers a fresh look at the Nittany Lions after more than four football-less months in Happy Valley. This year’s game is April 12; as always attendance and parking are free.
"I want every game during the season and the Blue-White Game to be a Penn State family reunion."—Coach James Franklin
"The Blue-White Game is like a family reunion,” said Coach James Franklin. “It’s tailgating, seeing all your old friends, seeing the team; it’s the whole package. I just want people to come out and enjoy the beautiful weather, watch the team and have a great day. I want every game during the season and the Blue-White Game to be a Penn State family reunion."
For more than 60 years, the Penn State football team has split into two squads: Blue and White; and squared off in an exhibition. It’s grown from humble roots; only 500 or so watched the 7-0 Blue victory at the first scrimmage in May 5, 1951. Tickets were $1 for general admission and 50 cents for students. Now it’s a weekend-long celebration of Penn State that attracted a record 76,500 fans for the 2009 game as well as a national television audience. In the early 2000s, a Fan Festival added food vendors, rides and games, creating a three-day Blue-White Weekend.
It’s a game, a party, a reunion and a thank-you to the Nittany Lion faithful.
An autograph session with players is set for 10:45 to 11:30 a.m. before the 1:30 p.m. start. It will be fans first glimpse of Franklin, who was named head coach in January and said he expects attendance of at least 80,000.
“If nobody gets hurt in this game, it’s a fun weekend, and I mean emphasis on fun,” said Steve Jones, who along with former Nittany Lion and NFL great Jack Ham, has called Penn State games on the radio since 2000.
Throughout the 63 years of the game's existence, coaches have veered from the traditional rules of the regular season. The quarterback is off-limits for contact, kick-offs are skipped and games have even been cut short during rainstorms. There’s perhaps no better example of the loose attitude surrounding the game, than Jones’ and Hams’ frequent guest during Blue-White broadcasts: former Coach Joe Paterno. The coach’s color commentary included calling plays through his headset and calling out players for on-field blunders.
The Blue-White game is a final opportunity for a player to make an impression before the 2014 season gets under way in late summer.
“Bill O’Brien (coach from 2012-13) showed his personality by getting mic'd up on the field to call a series of plays,” said Jones. “James Franklin will absolutely put his own touch on it because I believe we're dealing right now with the great communicator. … There'll be some point where the fans during the course of the game will get to know him better.”
The Blue-White game is the culmination of the team’s spring practice session, a final opportunity for a player to make an impression before the 2014 season gets under way in late summer. For more established upper classmen it’s often a day of light duty or even a day of rest. As an example, in 1986, most of the fifth-year seniors did a light spring workout only running through drills that didn’t require pads.
When the sun shines on Happy Valley, spring game attendance is among the best in college football’s spring practice schedule.
“I think they deserve a spring where they have a chance to relax a little and maybe play some golf or tennis,” said Paterno before that year’s spring game.
That time on the court and the links served the team well; the Nittany Lions went 12-0 in the fall and won the National Championship.
But there can definitely be pressure. Wally Richardson, one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in Penn State history, recalled the first drive of his first Blue-White game in 1992, a time when quarterbacks didn’t wear red jerseys and were fair game for contact. He took a big hit. Conscious of his every move being scrutinized by coaches and needing about 8 yards on third down, he called a running play when he was supposed to throw.
“I said I forgot, but I knew exactly what I was doing,” he said. “I didn't want to go out there with my head being funny and throw a pick.”
Richardson’s Blue-White routine is now more relaxed. As director of the Football Letterman’s Club, he leads an organization that maintains ties between the current program and former players. The stadium’s Letterman’s Lounge will be buzzing before and after the game, and Richardson anticipates a lot of letterman turning out to see the new coaching staff.
“The guys are great,” Richardson said. “They want to be involved, they want to continue to support the program and want to see the program do well.”
But even with all of the annual anticipation for seeing a new squad, the fickle early spring weather can dampen the game’s turnout. The 2006 contest attracted only 18,000 amid steady rain even though it came after an 11-1 season that saw such heights as a victory over Ohio State in front of 109,839 fans, recognition of the Penn State game day experience by Sports Illustrated as “the Greatest Show in College Sports” and the birth of Nittanyville as students camped out for the best tickets to the biggest games.
The Alumni Association organized the first spring scrimmage as a scholarship fundraiser in 1951 at State College High School’s Memorial Field.
But when the sun shines on Happy Valley, spring game attendance is among the best in college football’s spring practice schedule. From 2007-09, more than 70,000 watched.
The Alumni Association organized the first spring scrimmage as a scholarship fundraiser in 1951 at State College High School’s Memorial Field. (Penn State’s Beaver Field had recently been re-sodded.) The Daily Collegian student newspaper declared that sportswriters would present an old water bucket to the winning squad; reports in the week leading up to the game called it a “prized object.”
“The game will be the first of what is hoped will be an annual series of Blue-White clashes,” a Daily Collegian editorial stated. “Student, alumni and town interest in today’s game will determine whether a Blue-White clash is to become a permanent feature of the Penn State picture.”
The first intrasquad game came at a time when spring scrimmages between universities were common, according to a look back at the 1951 game by Penn State football historian Lou Prato. (In the weeks leading up to what was dubbed "The Bucket Bowl," Penn State had scrimmaged with Navy and Bucknell.)
“By 1955, the Blue-White game had become a tradition but the Collegian no longer made any reference to a Bucket Bowl,” Prato wrote. “Perhaps they just ran out of water buckets.”