As their busy schedules would permit, 15 or 20 of Lins's classmates would join him in scrums. Apparently, some kind of a formal contest had been played against Bucknell College as early as 1881, but as far as anyone ever has been able to certify, the game was rugby, not football.
It wasn't until 1887 that the sport evolved into one that involved lining up, running a play, blowing a whistle, then doing it again. Bucknell, 60 miles away in Lewisburg, had been playing a formal schedule of some kind since 1883. It issued its neighbors an invitation for a game on Nov. 12, 1887.
The challenge was not taken frivolously. Determined to look right for the occasion, the Penn State players ordered a dozen pair of pants and ski caps with tassles and 20 jerseys from the local tailor who supplied the school with its military uniforms. The traveling squad was limited to 12. That was all the pants the team could afford.
At a team meeting, the official school colors were designated as pink and white. Sweat and a few washings eventually would produce a fade to a more bluish tint, but the players boarded two stagecoaches in front of the hotel wearing their new colors proudly. From Lemont, they caught the train to Lewisburg and returned as proud 54-0 victors.
A week later, Bucknell returned the visit and State won again, 24-0, with Lins scoring three touchdowns. Flushed with its two victories, the Penn State team tried to schedule a game at Dickinson but the boys there refused to meet a request for a $40 traveling guarantee.
The following year State did take on Dickinson twice - a 16-0 defeat and a 6-6 tie - and was emboldened to increase its schedule to three by challening an already well-established Lehigh team. The 30-0 loss to the Engineers at Old Main was hard for State's finest to swallow; the 106-0 defeat Penn State endured in the return match the following year at Bethlehem was mortifying.
Long before the first Penn State coach begged off comment until he had seen the films, there were circumstances that contributed to the rout. Two of the members of Penn State's team accompanied halfback Charles Hildebrand to Philadelphia to attend his sister's funeral and didn't get to Lehigh in time for the kickoff. The nine State players who did make it tried to stall, but Lehigh insisted on holding back the $25 guarantee unless the game started immediately. To make matters worse, Lehigh exposed Penn State, which played the first half with nine men, with the dastardly (and later illegal) flying wedge. "We couldn't get at the s.o.b. with the ball," said team member Charlie Aull, who broke the desultory news to the Penn State faithful that had gathered for the team's return.
Lehigh and Lafayette, clearly playing a better brand of ball, were left out when Bucknell, Dickinson, Franklin & Marshall, Haverford, Swarthmore and Penn State formed the Pennsylvania Intercollegiate Football League in 1891. The first eligibility rules limited a player to six years.
An eight-game schedule was planned, but only seven were played. Dickinson again balked about the travel guarantee for a contest scheduled in Altoona and State was awarded a forfeit. With a 6-2 record, Penn State was awarded the league's first championship. Dickinson was expelled from the league.
In 1893, long before the invention of the team bus, Penn State even ventured all the way to Charlottesville for a game with Virginia. Road trips were tough in those days - the contest degenerated into a riot. State walked off the field after one of its players was punched by a spectator. Its 6-0 lead was allowed to stand as a victory.
The State College crowd, while rabid, was much more hospitable, to the ultimate embarrassment of the Western University of Pennsylvania. The 1893 game, the first in a long rivalry with what would become the University of Pittsburgh, was postponed because of a snowstorm. This left the WUP players a weekend to enjoy Penn State fraternity hospitality. They lost, 32-0, and later were accused by their followers as being unfit to play.
The son of the Penn State president, Charles Atherton, made history in 1894 with what apparently was the first kick ever from placement. The play, which no one ever had seen before, produced a 9-6 victory over Oberlin, but it later had to be certified by football's foremost authority of the time, Yale's Walter Camp.
Long before there was an Associated Press poll and coaches to gripe about it, Penn State had national ambitions. By 1898 a 10-game schedule was established, as was a series of annual beatings by the powerful University of Pennsylvania and Camp's Yale squads. Those powers, like Pitt, showed no interest in the long journey to State College, so Penn State home games were scarce in those days. Even Dickinson and Bucknell often insisted upon playing at a neutral site, Williamsport.
A search for an appropriate mascot was undertaken in 1906 after Joe Mason, class of 1907, became impressed with the Princeton Tiger on a baseball trip. A student publication sponsored the nickname selection process. It is only believed that Penn State was the first school in the country to chose a Lion as its mascot. But it is certifiable that no other ever had named itself after a woman. In regional folklore, Nittany was a valorous Indian princess in whose honor the Great Spirit caused Mount Nittany, where the campus rests, to be formed.
It was also in 1906, by which time enrollment at the school was up to 800, when the small-college era ended, for all intents and purposes. The Lions of that year, led by their first Camp-recognized All-America, center William T. ''Mother" Dunn, went 8-1-1. They were scored upon only once all season, their seventh consecutive shutout loss to Yale.
Though supported financially by the university, the team until then had been coached by volunteers from the physical education department. The last of them, Tom Fennell, informed the athletic board following the 1908 season that he was leaving to continue his law practice in Elmira, N.Y. For the first time, a search was undertaken to go outside for a successor.
Big Bill Hollenback, once named by the legendary Jim Thorpe as the toughest opponent he ever faced, was the choice. Hollenback's Penn team had held the mighty Carlisle Indians to a 6-6 tie in 1908 at Franklin Field. His personal war that day with Thorpe was so hard-fought that both players landed in the hospital for several days.
Hollenback, only 23, was younger than several of the Lions he would coach and had played against many of them the year before. In Ridge Riley's history of Penn State football, "Road to Number One," Hollenback was described as somewhat of a ladies man, equally at home in the locker room, drawing room, poolroom, ballroom and barroom. Clearly the new coach was a man for all seasons. Penn State was ready to have some good ones.
Pop Golden, one of the many part-time coaches, unofficially had become Penn State's recruiter. He brought in several stars, such as end Pete Mauthe, halfback Dexter Very, tackle Dad Engle (he was somebody else's dad, but Rip's uncle), halfback Shorty Miller and center Dick Harlow.
Hollenback's first team went 5-0-2. The 1911 one did the astounding, smashing Penn, 22-6, at Franklin Field. That long-awaited success against the big-city slickers touched off a wild celebration on campus. Later, a scoreless tie against heavily favored Navy preserved an 8-0-1 season. The following year the Lions embarrassed Penn again. Three weeks later they went to Columbus to play Ohio State.
Mauthe, Very and Miller ran wild against the stunned, and as it turns out, very-overrated Buckeyes. With the score 37-0, Ohio State, complaining about Penn State's rough play, walked off the field. The Lions finished that 1912 season 8-0 and were scored upon only once.
Graduations took their toll in the final two Hollenback seasons. Disturbed by new university rules making freshmen ineligible, Big Bill resigned in 1915 to go into private business. The graduation rate (only 50 of 89 lettermen over the last 17 years) was not impressive. And Penn State, sighting higher ideals than Eastern football power, in a sense de-emphasized.
Hollenback's replacement, Dick Harlow, who had stayed on as an assistant after graduation, was a short-tempered sort who once physically challenged a local vaudeville comedian who lampooned his baggy pants. Harlow had three winning seasons but committed the most heinous of sins, losing all three times to Pop Warner's Pitt powerhouses.
The alums in Pittsburgh already were grumbling when Harlow asked to be released for military service in 1918. Apparently, Pittsburgh money called the shots in those days. The new coach was Hugo Bezdek, who had coached successfully at the University of Oregon, but at present was employed as manager of the baseball Pittsburgh Pirates.
With his players back from the war in 1919, Bezdek defeated Pitt for the first time in seven years and promptly was awarded a 10-year contract. He never was to beat the Panthers again and, as with Harlow, this would be his eventual undoing. But he tied Warner twice in Pittsburgh in 1920 and 1921. And that 1921 team has to go down as one of Penn State's best.
Led by the performances of All-Americas Charlie Way and Glenn Killinger, the Lions battled to a very unexpected tie at Harvard and beat excellent Georgia Tech and Navy teams. The unbeaten streak, fueled by the running of halfback Harry Wilson, reached 30 consecutive games before Navy beat Penn State in 1922.
The success of those 1920 and 1921 teams led to Penn State's first postseason invitation. The day after the bid to participate in the first Rose Bowl to be played in the new Pasadena stadium was tendered, the 5-0 Lions, who had lost most of the stars of the preceding two teams to graduation, were tied by Syracuse. They then proceeded to lose to Navy, Penn and Pitt.
As five other undefeated teams howled, the Lions went off to California, where they expectedly lost to the University of Southern California, 14-3. Their payoff, however, was an astounding $21,349.64.
Bezdek coached through 1929 and suffered only one losing season in his last 12. But his tyrannical nature and year after year of one-sided defeats by Pitt eventually wore thin with the alums. Meanwhile, across the nation, the reformers' voices grew louder.
A study by the Carnegie Foundation to explore the role of athletics on campuses was commissioned in 1926. The schools where the sport had become big business braced for the results.
Even before the Carnegie report was released in 1929, a new Penn State president, Dr. Ralph Hetzel, indicated reservations about continuing football scholarships. Hetzel, a former crew member at Wisconsin, believed in physical education, but was insistent football programs could be run by recruiting from the student populace. In 1927, a Penn State study group unanimously recommended that athletic scholarships be dropped.
Sparsely attended alumni meetings called in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Wilkes-Barre and State College rubber-stamped the recommendation overwhelmingly. The scholarships of the players already on campus would be honored, but there would be no new ones. It would be 22 years until Penn State granted another athletic grant-in-aid.
Bezdek coached two more years before he was politely moved to head the new school of physical education. His assistant, Bob Higgins, a Lion All-America end in 1919, was named as the replacement.
The last of the scholarship athletes disappeared in 1930, Higgins's first season. The next year, the Lions lost to Waynesburg and Dickinson in a 2-8 embarrassment. In 1932, the season's high point was a 13-12 loss at Temple, the low another loss to Waynesburg. Penn State went 2-5. Pittsburgh, mercifully, was stricken from the schedule for three years.
After a 3-0 loss to Muhlenberg early in the 1933 season, Hetzel wasn't mortified, but at least one alumnus was. His name was Casey Jones, an executive of the West Penn Power Company. As a good friend and former Penn State teammate of Higgins, Jones was determined to do whatever he could to help.
Jones turned the resurgence of Penn State football into a one-man crusade. Eventually, he built up a group of lieutenants, but he started his thankless task alone.
He gave money and begged others to do the same. He secured summer jobs and personally drove high school prospects to State College. Old Case was the kind of guy who, if he lived today, had a real good shot at getting you on probation, but he claimed to be breaking no rules in those more lenient times.
By the mid-'30s, Penn State was at least winning as many as it lost. The schedule, thankfully, had been scaled down and the fans - 10 or 15,000 of them a game - understood not to expect too much.
"Higgins had a good attitude toward it," said Jim O'Hora, who, for lack of many other offers, walked on as un undersized center in 1932 and didn't leave until he retired as Joe Paterno's defensive coordinator in 1977. ''Under the circumstances, Bob did a remarkable job.
"Recruiting was down to the bottom of the barrel. He was just happy if he could get a kid with any kind of an athletic background at all.
"He never lost control and was always a gentleman in all respects. You could draw an analogy between Bob and Rip (Engle). Both were soft-spoken, kind, not brusque in any way, not domineering, very careful to speak well.
"Higgins hated cursing and swearing. He'd tell Franny Rogel (a back who played in the late '40s), 'I'll take that plate from you if you don't eat correctly.' We had a punt returner by the the name of Larry Joe. Larry would yell, 'I got it.' Bob would say, 'Larry, you should say, 'I have it.' "
Jones finagled enough players to achieve some measure of respectability in 4-4 campaigns in 1934 and 1935, and by mid-decade had managed to raise an annual $5,500 stipend to divide up into scholarships.
"Casey got me," said Sever Toretti, a high school star at Monongahela, who later served as assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Penn State until he retired in 1979. "Myself and two other guys from my school were going to go to Pitt.
"I learned something from him which I put to use later. You woo the mothers, not just the kids. Casey had mine convinced that Penn State was the place for me."
It took Higgins five years to win a road game (31-0 at Lehigh), six to pull an upset (27-13 over Villanova) and eight to turn in a winning record (5-3 in 1937). No one could have foreseen that the 1938 team, which slipped back to 3-4-1 but at least smashed hated Syracuse, 33-6, would be the last losing one Penn State would have.
In 1939, State went 5-1-2, tied Army, and beat Pitt, 10-0, for the first time in 20 years. The players carried Higgins off the field. In 1940 the Lions won their first five games and had bowl hopes until suffering a disappointing loss to the Panthers, but the worst clearly was over. In his final 10 seasons Higgins would post a record of 62-17-7.
What the trustees had taken away in 1927, Uncle Sam would bring back. While many schools curtailed or dropped their programs entirely during World War II, Penn State became an armed forces training center.
Six-hundred Marine V-12 trainees poured into State College. More than a few of them could play. Unfortunately, Higgins never knew when they would be called to duty and often lost half his starting lineup on the morning of a game, but he beat Pitt three consecutive years. Even more importantly, many of those servicemen decided to come back after the war. They formed the backbone of the 1947 team, which put Penn State back into a bowl for the first time in 25 years.
"Our grant-in-aid program," O'Hora said, "was the G.I. bill."
Ed Czekaj, later Penn State's athletic director, was one of the servicemen who was smitten. "I was sent there for the V-12 program and fell in love with the community, the people, and Bob Higgins," Czekaj said. "I said, 'God willing, I wanted to come back.' "
The 1947 Lions, recruited under the combined auspices of Casey Jones and the U.S. Armed Forces, held their opponents to an average of only 17 yards per game, and less than 1 yard per rushing play. Syracuse, a 40-0 loser, managed 47 yards total offense. Penn State shut out six of its nine opponents.
Romance even bloomed. Higgins's All-America guard, Steve Suhey, fell in love with Higgins's daughter Ginger and eventually married her. Almost 30 years later, three little Suheys - Paul, Larry and Matt - were in Penn State uniforms for the 1976 Gator Bowl.
Penn State sweated a bowl bid that year fearful that the southern gentlemen who staged the games would take notice of the school's first two black players - Dennie Hoggard and Wally Triplett - and send the Eastern champion to the back of the bus.
But the Cotton Bowl Committee came through, extending an invitation to play Southern Methodist on New Year's Day. What the committee couldn't do, however, was secure Dallas hotel accommodations for Hoggard and Triplett. Higgins, who had canceled a 1946 game at the University of Miami when it was made clear the two black players weren't invited, herded his team off to a naval air station 14 miles from Dallas.
As guests of the service, the Lions were subject to the same curfews and restrictions as those based there. Higgins, preparing for the game, was not of a mind to grant much leave anyway. The players practically revolted.
"It was terrible," said Rogel, then a sophomore running back. "I was still a teenager and maybe I didn't know any better, but now I understand how really terrible it was. I was one of the youngest guys on the team. Most of the rest were 23, 24 years old and had just gotten out of the service and here they were, on a bowl trip that is supposed be fun, and they're back in the chow line.
"They were climbing over the fence, under the fence, through the fence. It wasn't very pleasant at all."
The surly players met with Higgins, who relaxed some of the restrictions, but the Lions showed up for the game not at all in a mood to play.
The great Doak Walker ran for one first-quarter score and passed for another and a 13-0 SMU lead. Penn State got one back on an Elwood Petchel pass to Larry Cooney late in the first half. But Higgins, perturbed by his team's sloth, made his point at halftime.
"All he said was, 'This is something you will remember the rest of your life,' and then he left," Rogel said. "The guys got together and said, 'Let's go play ball.' "
The Lions launched a third-quarter drive that was stopped a yard away from the goal line, but Petchel returned the resultant punt to the SMU 9 and passed to Triplett for the tying touchdown. Czekaj, however, found his way into the archives by missing the extra point. "My one claim to fame," he said. "But people forget Walker missed one, too."
The Lions had one more chance, but a pass to Hoggard in the end zone on the last play of the game was tipped away. They left with a 13-13 tie.
"My dad was so proud of that team," Ginger Suhey said. "And, of course, the one that finally beat Pitt. He just had so much pride in his players, not so much for what they did on the field, but for the kind of students and people they were. He looked at himself as a teacher as much as a coach."
Higgins finished up his 19-year run as a head coach in 1948. The Lions came within 2 yards of sending him out with another undefeated team, but Pitt stopped Rogel at the 2 with 12 seconds to go and held on to win, 7-0.
Concerned about his health and confident that the athletic board would approve his hand-picked successor, assistant Earle Edwards, Higgins submitted his resignation the following March.
A faction of alums, however, felt longtime line coach Joe Bedenk deserved the position on the basis of seniority. Bedenk, whose first love was baseball and who was wary of the school's ability to continue to recruit without full grants-in-aid, didn't jump at the chance.
Only when he heard that the trustees were about to consider a limited grant-in-aid program did Bedenk decide to give it a shot. Edwards, who had every reason to believe he would get the job, was crushed. After spring practice, he left for a position at Michigan State and later became head coach at North Carolina State.
It didn't take Bedenk long to realize he had made a mistake. An opening loss to Villanova was followed by a rout at Army. O'Hora remembers a long walk he took with the new coach after the game at West Point.
"He told me had a good mind to throw the whole sponge in," O'Hora said. ''He said he was sick of the whole thing.
"See, he coached baseball here and as a result would always miss spring practice. He wasn't even sure it was necessary. He was a very good line coach, he introduced some things like looping, which were probably ahead of their time. But he wasn't putting in the time to progress with the game.
"Joe just didn't have that deep interest in football like he did baseball. When it came down to it, he just wasn't up to the times. He was scrounging for help and we gave it to him. Actually, it wasn't all that terrible. We did bounce back to go 5-4."
More importantly, the success of the 1947 and 1948 teams had caught the attention of the trustees. Even with the obvious improvement on the field, aid for the athletes was pretty much wherever you could find it. O'Hora found
himself begging fraternities to feed his players with their leftovers.
So Bedenk and Toretti held their breath and submitted a plan to comptroller Samuel Hostetter to supplement the limited alumni aid program by allowing football players to serve as paid monitors in the new West Residence Halls. Hostetter took it to the board.
"They had just enlarged Beaver Stadium again," Toretti said. "And we had to have some players to fill those seats. Notre Dame had that monitor program at the time. It seemed like a reasonable request.
"I'll never forget this. Hostetter came back and said, 'The board has declined your proposal. But in its infinite wisdom they gave you 30 grants- in-aid.' Joe and I almost fell out of our chairs."
Bedenk went back to being a line coach in March. The university began a search for his successor. "It was very evident they would go outside this time," O'Hora said. "The Bedenk thing was still a hot potato and it was just more comfortable that way. The alumni had been split between Joe and Earle. They wanted somebody who would draw people together."
The list drawn up by athletic director Dr. Carl Schott was short, topped by Charles "Rip" Engle, the head coach at Brown. In 1948 and 49, Brown had won 15 of 18 games with an innovative Wing-T offense and a skinny quarterback named Joe Paterno.
Engle, a native of Elk Lick, Pa., whose uncle, Dad, had been a Penn State tackle in 1910-12, had just turned down the offer of the Pitt job. But he was intrigued with this one.
"We loved it at Brown," said Rip's wife, Sunny, "but Rip realized it was going to be hard to keep winning there. Most of the team was made up of service players, there was no recruiting. It was going to be hard to compete with Harvard and Yale.
"His mother and father were still living in Pennsylvania and getting old. He wanted to be closer to them. And he saw a lot of potential at Penn State."
When Engle agreed to take the job in April, Schott offered to reassign the holdover coaching staff to other jobs within the athletic and physical education department. Engle opted for continuity instead, asking to bring only one assistant with him to help teach the Wing-T.
His top two assistants decided to stay at Brown. So he turned to Paterno, who had planned to go to law school in the fall. Paterno talked it over with his parents and decided to postpone his studies for a year.
"We'd already had spring practice when Rip and Joe arrived," O'Hora said. ''Rip had to depend on somebody who knew the players. It was a happy marriage. It had to be - the first coach to leave was Al Michaels in 1953, three years later when Edwards got the N.C. State job. And Rip was very sorry to see Al go.
"Joe? As far as he was concerned, he was here for one thing, to help Rip install the Wing-T and then go to law school. He wasn't even sure he was going to stay for the season."
The 1982 team will be remembered as the one that broke the ice, capturing the national championship. But, as Jay Greenberg reports in the final installment of "Penn State Football: A Century of Excellence," years of legwork went into making that moment happen.