STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Saturday night’s “white out” by Penn State fans when Ohio State played the Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium was the 13th time this has been done.
Some people think the tradition, where almost everyone in the stadium wears a white T-shirt, white sweatshirt or something white, started when Penn State beat Ohio State in 2005 in a nationally televised game.
Actually, it started a year earlier in 2004 in a game against Purdue. The 2005 game against Ohio State was just the first time it got widespread attention.
The first “white out” was the brainchild for Guido D’Elia, who worked in the sports marketing department at Penn State.
In 2004, Penn State was in the least successful stretch on the field in Joe Paterno’s 42-year career. The Nittany Lions were on their way to their fourth losing season in five years when D’Elia introduced the “white out.”
The first year, the request to wear white was aimed at just the 22,000-seat student section.
Without social media to spread the word, students were recruited to approach other students during change of classes time to ask them to wear white. Some of the students advertising the “white out” reportedly used bull horns to spread the message.
The idea wasn’t original. The current Phoenix Coyotes franchise in the National Hockey League tried it in the 1980s when it had “white out” games while operating under the name of the Winnipeg Jets.
Penn State took it to another level, though, as the athletes like to say, by getting almost 110,000 people to show up all in white and scream their heads off.
Maybe the biggest reason the “white out” caught on and became a fixture is that the season ticket holders and the rest of the fans liked it and joined the students, starting with the 2005 Ohio State game, which the Nittany Lions won 17-10.
While it is an impressive sight, the intimidation factor in Penn State’s version of the “white out” might not be quite as big as it has built up to be.
Penn State won only five of the previous 12 “white out” games it played, including losing four of the last five times before Saturday night when its fans put on the white shirts.
Of course, the quality of the competition in the “white out” games might have something to do with that.
The first one in 2004 against Purdue was chosen to try to create more enthusiasm in the stadium for a match-up with a Boilermakers team that was ranked No. 9.
Saturday night was the fourth time Ohio State was chosen for a “white out” game. The other times were 2014, 2012 and 2005. Michigan has also been involved four times – 2015, 2013, 2010 and 2006.
Notre Dame, Alabama, Iowa and Illinois when it was ranked in the Top 25 in 2008 are the other visiting teams who have played in “white out” games.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.