As you know, last week Wally Triplett passed away. A man whose legacy precedes even Joe Paterno. Most of us recall the story… When Mr. Triplett was a young man, he received an offer to play football for Miami. That offer was later rescinded when the university discovered that Wally Triplett was black. And of course, we remember he went on to become the first African-American Penn State player and the first African-American draftee to play for the NFL. During his Nittany Lion career, the team was scheduled to go play against Miami, who requested they leave the two black players at home. A testament to Penn State football culture, the team held a meeting and voted to cancel the game. Later it was Steve Suhey—who married Ginger Higgins, daughter of his coach Bob Higgins and who housed young Joe Paterno upon his arrival to Penn State and whose son Paul betrayed Paterno and all of us as a member of the Board of Trustees in 2011—who supposedly said, “We are Penn State. There will be no meetings.” And thus the ubiquitous phrase was born, though its road to the stadium was a bit winding.
Our famous stadium cheer was admittedly influenced by the rolling O-H-I-O of OSU, the old, fast-paced “We are SC” of USC, and the tenacity of a group of PSU cheerleaders who spent the better part of a decade trying to infuse our students and fans with enthusiasm for it. The “We Are” cheer may not have originated with the stories of unity from the mid-1940s seasons, yet the two are inextricably intertwined today. The call and response that reluctantly took hold now unite Penn Staters anywhere in the world. Is there any one of us who hasn't been somewhere wearing your Penn State pride and heard a “We Are!” shouted? Or shouted it yourself? Every time we join in the cheer at Beaver Stadium, every time we call and respond to one another we know, we remember, we feel part of the Penn State family.
In my opinion, it’s no coincidence that with Wally Triplett’s legacy washing over us our team looked more together than they have all season. The fans are happy we beat Wisconsin but true Penn Staters know football is always about a larger picture. Yes, we’re doing things right on the field, but we are even better at doing things right off the field.
Recently, Miles Sanders, Journey Brown, Ricky Slade and Johnathan Thomas reportedly dropped in on a meeting of the offensive line to express support and confidence in their teammates.
And following the win against Wisconsin, Coach Franklin said,“I take a lot of pride in our guys—how our players, how our coaches conduct themselves through adversity and through success.”
We all do because it’s in our PSU DNA. It's been part of our story for ages. When others question our football culture, we don’t. We’ve known what we meant when we say “We are Penn State” from the 1940s to today. Thank you, Wally Triplett and the team who embodied the love and loyalty our players and fans sing together each Saturday. Thank you for making a statement about Penn State football culture and setting the course for our future more than 70 years ago.