[Editor’s Note: Today we have a guest entry from reader Bud Parks, who’s done a deep dive on an easily overlooked uni element. Enjoy! — Paul]
By Bud Parks
Paul has periodically written about the concept of “Coke” teams (i.e., traditional/classic/legacy franchises that rarely change their visual presentation) vs. “Pepsi” teams (teams that like to change things up every few years). One of the “Coke-est” teams in North American sports might be the football team at Penn State (which happens to be my alma mater), whose uniforms are famously minimalist and unchanging. But one small element of their uniforms has been in near-constant flux for the better part of 35 years now, and it’s been right under our noses the whole time. Or, rather, just above the team’s noses. I’m talking, of course, about the graphics on the Penn State nose bumpers.
Granted, nose bumpers don’t usually get much attention. But for a team that’s known for leaving everything the same, the Nittany Lions have had a surprising amount of churn on their bumper graphics. Here’s a rundown:
Penn State’s first custom nose bumper graphic came in 1988. Instead of just having the helmet manufacturer’s name, they went with “Lions” in a simple typeface.
For PSU’s first season as a member of the Big Ten, they adjusted their decals accordingly. (Remember how the Big Ten logo during this period had a hidden “11”? Penn State was that 11th team!)
Penn State went undefeated in 1994, and most fans will be happy to tell you that PSU would’ve handily beaten No. 1-ranked Nebraska for the National Championship had the Big Ten not forced the Lions to play in the Rose Bowl vs. Oregon instead. Meanwhile, we also got our first look at what “Penn State” would look like across the bumper.
The team decides to revert back to the same Big Ten logo that was used in the 1993 season.
A new “Penn State” wordmark appears. This was actually part of the school’s primary athletics logo for a number of years. It’s affectionately known as the “tennis ball font” by a portion of the fanbase due to its similarity to the logo of a certain sporting goods brand.
After a four-year absence, “Lions” makes its return, this time in a new font.
For the first time, “Lions” appears in a serif font — looks like Varsity Block.
Yet another font for “Lions” — the fourth one so far!
Despite a moderately successful season in 2002 compared to the previous few seasons, the team decides to return to the Varsity Block font originally used from 1998 through 2001.
“Penn State” makes its return to the bumper, now in its third font. After so much turnover in fonts and styles, this one actually lasts for 11 consecutive seasons!
A fourth treatment is chosen for “Penn State,” this time to more accurately reflect the school’s current athletics wordmark. But for some reason, this version is rendered incredibly small.
Two firsts for the team in the Covid-shortened season of 2020: a 3D graphic, and the primary athletics logo instead of a wordmark. They would keep this one for the 2021 season as well.
New this season, the team has decided to try yet another iteration of “Penn State,” but rendered larger and in 3D. Unfortunately, for the first time, different-sized wordmarks are being used for different helmet models. Previously, they’d always been able to cut the decal to fit the bumper on any helmet model.
So that’s 13 changes between 11 different graphics across 34 years! Pretty surprising for a team that prides itself as being sartorially “steady as she goes.”
Paul here. Great job by Bud! Please join me in thanking him for the excellent concept and the even better execution. Peak Uni Watch!
Take your time mang, get some rest, the uni verse is in constant motion – jump on when you can.
Happy to hear that Mary is unpositive!
“Stuff I used to want as I stood in front of the window of Uncle Al’s Toy Corral in Buena Park California in the Stranger Days era.” The memories come flooding back. Man I was a weird kid.
Penn State as a “Coke team” is amusing because since 1992, Pepsi has had the pouring rights with the university.
Groans of “Pepsi State” were common when I was a student and Ralph Nader even weighed in. I suppose a portion of the fan base who never got over Pepsi or the Big Ten should have informed some of the behavior we’ve seen from part of the alumni and fanbase…
As for thr Pepsi deal, it expired at the end of June and is still under review. link
Also, great deep dive, Bud.
I miss the tennis font – the sans serif paired with the chipmunk logo looks like it was done in a Word doc.
Now if we could get back the contradting trim on the jerseys and the tennis font…
Sending you some healing thoughts, Paul. Hope the cough subsides soon. I agree with you — coughing is a particularly miserable symptom.
I have to admit, I didn’t realize that Penn State didn’t join the Big 10 until the early 1990’s.
Did they play football as an independent (like Notre Dame) prior to the 1993 season?
Yes, independent til then
As a Penn State fan and alumnus myself I found this very interesting! Great job, Bud!
Damn I love details like this. Awesome job, Bud.
Nice work, Bud!
“Penn State’s first custom nose bumper graphic came in 1988″… they got all sorts of fancy that year and switched to navy facemasks too.
I’m not in the ‘all facemasks should be gray’ camp, but theirs should be.
Thanks Chris! My first draft of this article actually mentioned the switch to navy masks in 1988, but got cut for length/relevance purposes. I like when we go gray masks every once and awhile these days with our ‘G of G’ uniforms, but overall, I vastly prefer the navy masks myself haha
My favorite two teams: Pitt and whoever is playing Penn State.
I may be in the minority here, but I personally like the 3D Nittany Lion logo on the nose bumper from the past two seasons. It seems like the cleanest option for such an iconic uniform.
I’ve been watching Penn State avidly since 1982. This is the first I’ve noticed the changing nose bumpers. The best uniforms in sports are Penn State’s home set in a late afternoon magic hour into night game. Simply glorious.
Deep dive indeed! Well done.
This is the kind of minutiae I always find fascinating. Great job.
And no doubt about the cough…I tested negative back in February (twice) but I’m almost certain I had it. Worst cough I can remember and it lasted for three weeks before it finally cleared up completely. (If it wasn’t Covid, it was one hell of a cold.)
But you’re right, it just wears you out expelling so much energy seemingly every 30 seconds, just to feeling like you’re hacking up a lung. Frustrating. Hope it clears up soon.