It started with a threat — At a baseball game against Princeton in 1904, Mason and other members of Penn State’s team were shown a statue of Princeton’s famous Bengal tiger as an indication of the merciless treatment they could expect to encounter on the field. This really struck Penn State student H.D. Joe Mason who was embarrassed that Penn State did not have a mascot. He fabricated the Nittany Lion on the spot and proclaimed that it would easily defeat the Princeton Bengal tiger. Penn State went on to defeat Princeton that day, and the legend of the Nittany Lion was born. Before he graduated, he was set on making the Nittany Lion the school’s official mascot. “Every college the world over of any consequence has a college emblem of some kind—all but The Pennsylvania State College . . .. Why not select for ours the king of beasts—the Lion!! Dignified, courageous, magnificent, the Lion allegorically represents all that our College Spirit should be, so why not ‘the Nittany Mountain Lion’? Why cannot State have a kingly, all-conquering Lion as the eternal sentinel?”
Mason got what he wanted, though maybe not the way he wanted. Over the next few years, Mason’s “Nittany Lion” won such widespread support among students, alumni, and fans that there was never any official vote on its adoption.
But what is a Nittany Lion? According to the Penn State website, the Nittany Lion is essentially an ordinary mountain lion. By attaching the prefix “Nittany” to this beast, Mason gave Penn State a unique symbol that no other college or university could claim. Mountain lions had roamed on nearby Mount Nittany until the 1880’s, and the original nittany lion can be seen in the Paterno Library as the only known mounted eastern mountain lion. It was killed in 1856.
Only 85 days until college football kicks off!
Our countdown started with the history of different school nicknames:
Friday – Demon Deacons
Saturday – Eagles
Monday – Falcons
Tuesday – Gators
Wednesday – Hokies
Thursday – Jayhawks
Friday – Knights
Monday – Lobos
Tuesday – Minutemen