That chant and slogan resonates through Happy Valley year round. But where did it come from? Thanks to Lauren Boyer at the Centre Daily Times we now know. And you may be pleasantly surprised.
The year is 1947. Racism and segregation continue to run rampant throughout the country. And yet this was the time when Penn State's most iconic battle cry was born. The 1947 Nittany Lion football team - coached by Bob Higgins and not one Joe Paterno - was undefeated and headed to the Cotton Bowl to take on Southern Methodist. Despite the feeling towards African-Americans around the states, the 9-0 Penn State teams was united. This 1947 squad contained two African-American players, Wally Triplett, who was the first African-American to be drafted and play in the NFL and Dennie Hoggard. And they were part of the team, in every sense of the word. Prior to the Cotton Bowl (played on New Year's Day, 1948) rumors swirled that SMU wanted to meet with Penn State in regards to their black players playing in the game. The University and football team wanted no part in this meeting. It was at this time that Triplett says "We are Penn State" came to be.
“We are Penn State,” Triplett recalled Suhey saying. “There will be no meetings.”Suhey is offensive guard and team captain Steve Suhey. Penn State's unwillingness to leave their black players at home is admirable. And what was their reward for standing up for what they believe in? The Dallas hotels around the Cotton Bowl would not admit them due to the presence of Triplett and Hoggard. Did the Nittany Lions ship them off by themselves? No. The team drove 14 miles outside of the city and bunked at the Naval Air Station.
The game was played as scheduled, with no more problems revolving around race. Though SMU may disagree. Triplett scored the decisive tying touchdown and the game ended in a tie, 13-13.
Triplett is ever grateful for Penn State and his former teammates.
Most of [his] success Triplett attributes to “that team” from Penn State — a school that he says doesn’t get the credit it deserves for advancing civil rights."That team" that stood up for him and did the right thing. "That team" spawned - in all its glory - the everlasting phrase: WE ARE PENN STATE.