Hail to Thee, Okoboji U! A Humor Anthology on Higher Education

By Mark C. Ebersole | Go to book overview

Wherefore Art Thou Nittany?

Calvin Trillin

January 12, 1987

"Daddy, why is the Penn State football team called the Nittany Lions? What's a nittany?"

"I thought girls were supposed to know all about football these days."

"Does that mean you aren't sure what a nittany is, Daddy?"

"Let me just give you the cereal choices for this morning: we have the kind with enough riboflavin to power the entire Southwestern Conference through the next three recruiting scandals and we have the kind that tends to get stuck in your teeth."

"That's all right, Daddy: I can just ask Mr. Hopkinson at school. He knows all about football. I'll have the kind with the riboflavin."

"Hopkinson's a blowhard. That man's got no historical perspective."

"You're not going to recite the starting line-up of the 1947 Kansas City Blues again, are you, Daddy?"

"I do know that it's lovely around Penn State in the autumn, undergraduates strolling hand in hand along the banks of the flowing Nittany."

"There isn't any Nittany River, Daddy. I looked it up in the atlas.

"It's ironic, of course, that Penn State is so famous for football, because classicists know it as the place where, some years ago, a group of brilliant undergraduate pranksters managed to fool half the scholars in the world with a bogus manuscript in ancient Greek that included a mythical mythical beast, the Nittany, and a scene in which Zeus asked Hera to return a token of his affection that seemed very much like a modern fraternity pin. I'll never forget the closing couplet: 'She nearly had a fit, and he / Rode off on a Nittany.'"

"No, Daddy. Not a mythical mythical beast."

"No?"

"Definitely not."

"Why can't you be interested in something like how the Georgetown Hoyas got their name?"

"Because Penn State's number one, Daddy."

-27-

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