The school’s first unofficial mascot before the Nittany Lion burst onto the scene, was a mule, named “Old Coaly.”
The Mule arrived at State College in 1857 and assisted in construction, by hauling limestone blocks. Old Coaly was purchased for $190 once construction was completed.
He spent 30 years helping with landscaping and farming on campus from 1863-1893 and served as the school’s unofficial mascot of the school.
He was so loved by students, that Old Coaly’s skeleton is preserved and is still on display at the HUB-Robeson Center.
Eleven years later, the Nittany Lion began its tenure, serving as the official mascot at Penn State.
While most schools flip flop around and change their official mascot, PSU has stayed the course with its mascot of choice. The mascot originated in 1904, when Harrison D. “Joe” Mason, a baseball player for Penn State came up with the mascot on the spot, against Princeton.
Princeton showed Penn State a statue of Princeton’s Bengal Tiger, to show the merciless treatment they were about to encounter on the field.
Which is such a 1904 thing to do… look at this statue of our mascot, you’re in trouble.
Since Penn State was mascot-less, Mason was quick on his feet and shot back at the nerds from Princeton saying that their school’s mascot was the Nittany Lion, “the fiercest beast of them all,” who could overcome even the tiger.
I get it, my high school’s mascot was a Purgolder… made up big cats are the best, and obviously quite ferocious.
Coincidentally, the fake cat rebuttal worked and Penn State won the game.
As time went on, the Nittany Lion gained widespread support among students, alumni and fans and was adopted as the school’s mascot without an official vote.
Last I checked this was a democracy and not a mascotracy.
While the Nittany Lion is basically your run of the mill cougar, mountain lion, puma, panther, catamount or mountain screamer the ‘Nittany’ of its name comes from the Nittany Mountain, which is part of the Appalachian Mountain range, which is located partially in Pennsylvania.
The Mountain’s peak sits 2,077 feet above sea level and is 800 feet or more over the Nittany Valley.
Penn State University’s Park campus is located at the midway point of the Nittany Valley, which spans about 60 miles, four counties and is more than five miles wide.
The terrain is mostly farms and small towns, with the mountains on either side, which are densely forested.
The forested area is where mountain lions once roamed central Pennsylvania until the 1880s. However, there had been some unconfirmed sightings, long after that.
While there was no lion mascot public appearance until the 1920s, the school erected a pair of lion statues named ‘ma’ and ‘pa,’ that were placed on top of the columns at the university’s main entrance.
The school also had two stuffed lions that were placed in Rec Hall.
As you can see, it was... well... constructed...?
The first public appearance for the lion mascot was in 1922, when Richard Hoffman, a student at the school, was chosen to wear an African lion suit to athletic events.
And obviously, it has to be an African lion costume... that is totally inter-changeable with a mountain lion... (that was sarcasm).
Hoffman was the perfect choice to wear the costume, as he played a lion in a production of “Androcles and the Lion.”
The lion’s name was Nittany Leo I, and the wearer was required to walk/crawl on all fours.
Just think of the grass stains... and all before Tide was introduced in 1946...
After a short break in the 1930s, the lion came back in 1940 and more closely resembled a mountain lion, however this was short-lived, as the African lion costume was back in 1960.
Once the school got over it’s indecisiveness, the lion returned to its mountain lion design in the 1980s and it has remained since then.
Ugh… where to start… I mean… it’s a dumpster fire.
I mean look at it.
While most mascots are human-like versions of the animal it represents, whether it be bull, a badger, a wildcat, or even a nut, the Nittany Lion isn’t a human-like Nittany Lion, by design, it’s a person, wearing a lion costume.
The suit is loose fit and far too baggy. What is this amateur hour?
The sleeves and gloves do not connect and it looks like it would be far too easy for the sleeve to roll up.
The head is decent, but the extra baggy flap of neck skin that hangs down, is just too much and looks awful.
Apart from looking rough, it also looks super creepy.
And the scarf? My guess is the conversation went something along these lines:
“Well, the mascot needs to wear something that signifies PSU.”
“What about a shirt?”
“No, that would cover up too much of the burlap sack, we’re calling a costume.”
“Okay, how about a basketball jersey?”
“No, because then he can’t pull a “Winnie the Pooh,” and he would have to wear the shorts.”
“And that would be bad...?”
“Well, you clearly hate all of my ideas, what do you propose?”
Adjusts scarf, throwing it over his shoulder “A scarf!”
“Just a scarf...?”
“Yes. It’s settled.”
As you can see, they didn’t have the best decision makers...
Whether it wears just a scarf, or any other article of clothing, it’s is guaranteed to haunt my dreams...
And to think, it’s in the Mascot Hall of Fame...
*Me sharing all of my evidence, showing that the Nittany Lion, shouldn’t be in the Mascot Hall of Fame*