Penn State Football: It's Time to Take the Names Back off the Jerseys

Tim Tolley@@TimTolley_BRContributor IMarch 26, 2014

Penn State linebacker Gerald Hodges wears injured teammate Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti's jersey No. 42 during an NCAA college football game against Wisconsin in State College, Pa., Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

When the 2012 Penn State Nittany Lions arrived at their lockers prior to the home opener against the Ohio Bobcats, they saw something no other team before them had witnessed.

For the first time in Penn State's 120-plus-year history, the recognizably plain blue and white jerseys were adorned with each player's name on the back.

Before the players took the field, word spread to the press box and Nittany Nation was buzzing.

Bill O'Brien had been asked about the uniforms on the day he was hired and several times since. Each time, he vowed to not change them.

Then came the NCAA and their near-death penalty on the football program.

Mark Emmert and company opened the doors at Penn State, allowing all current players to transfer without penalty.

Some, including Silas Redd and Justin Brown, did just that.

However, an overwhelming majority remained true to their commitments. They are the reason Bill O'Brien chose to have the names put on the jerseys.

O'Brien felt that the players who stayed deserved recognition. While the Nittany Lions had always "played for the name on the front of the jersey, not the back," circumstances were extreme. Those players were still playing for Penn State, but Penn State owed them a debt.

The names, in large part, paid that debt.

As John Bacon wrote in Fourth and Long, "Whatever the lettermen, alumni and fans thought about this break with tradition, the response among the players was unanimous. They loved it."

It's difficult to argue that guys like Michael Mauti and Jordan Hill, who each turned down several offers to leave, didn't deserve a gesture of recognition.

Likewise, kids like Adam Breneman and Christian Hackenberg, who didn't enroll until the following summer, kept their class intact and ensured that Penn State football would live on.

Each member of that class was given the opportunity to slip on the prestigious Nittany Lions jersey with their names on the back, and rightfully so.

It's fair to claim that no team in Penn State's history has been as meaningful as the 2012 and 2013 versions.

Not the 1982 champions or the undefeated squad of '94. The redemption team of 2005 doesn't stack up, and neither will the 2014 team.

Taking the names off the jerseys isn't a matter of tradition of staying "old school." 

Removing the names is a way to keep it special for those who earned that privilege.

Sure, the sanctions are still looming and the words "Penn State" carry a burden from its past, but the kids enrolling now will likely play in several bowls during their careers and will never deal with the scrutiny that the players from the last two teams did.

The players on those teams were no more special than the players on the teams of the future, but they made special sacrifices and accomplished special feats. 

There's a difference between being the "first players" at Penn State who had names on their jerseys and being the only players to have lived that.

That difference is an accolade that those kids, the kids from 2012 and 2013, deserve.