Uniforms will sport new look this fall

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The quote has appeared so often over the years that the words tend to play back through our heads with the still-thick Brooklyn accent of a certain elderly football coach.

"The name on the front of the jersey is what really matters," Joe Paterno once said, "not the name on the back."

The man's fashion sense did not change over the decades. An empty patch of navy or white fabric above the back number was as typical as a packed house in Beaver Stadium.

But the months after his firing have brought about new wrinkles to the game-day experience. Players will sing the alma mater after games. Paternoville is now called Nittanyville. And the greatest difference yet ... the team and new coach Bill O'Brien decided to add names to the back of their jerseys for the 2012 season as a sign of each individual's dedication to uphold the program's traditions after this tumultuous year. The front of the jerseys also will include a blue ribbon to promote awareness for child sexual abuse.

"We want our fans to know and recognize these young men," O'Brien said in a release. "They have stuck together during tough times, and I commend them for the leadership they have shown. Moving forward I'm deeply committed to following Penn State's traditions, while building a bright future for our football program."

This is the first time in 126 seasons of football that players' names will appear, but subtle changes have been made to the jerseys previously. In 2011, for instance, the trim was removed from the collar and sleeves on the jerseys. That trim was first introduced in the early '90s. Another notable change over Paterno's tenure included the removal of numerals from the helmets.

Change to the uniform is not new, and it never was. Penn State's original colors in 1887 were pink and black. Blue and white became the colors of choice in 1890, according to the athletic department.

For Paterno, though, adding names would not have been entirely different than reverting to pink. He clung to tradition like the pope, wearing white socks, black shoes and rolled-up pants year after year and not wanting major changes to his players' attire either. In his autobiography, he wrote, " 'We are Penn State,' we chant, to remind ourselves of our special symbols: those black shoes, those plain uniforms with no glitter and no names."

O'Brien's thoughts and approach to this matter clearly differ, but the switch was made democratically.

Two weeks ago, at Big Ten media days, offensive lineman John Urschel said any possible change was a process between the players and O'Brien. Back then, he said nothing would likely be finalized until the first game Sept. 1.

Like the swift removal of the Paterno statue and ensuing transformation of that area into a patch of grass and trees, change can come in a hurry.


Mark Dent: mdent@post-gazette.com and Twitter @mdent05.


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