History of the Land Grant Trophy
The Penn State football program markets itself as ‘Unrivaled’. From posters to commercials to hype videos and hashtags; Penn State football tries to make every game just like any other. This Saturday’s showdown against Michigan State on Homecoming is not like any other. It is the battle of the Land Grant Trophy. The history of the Land Grant Trophy is a relatively interesting one that starts when Penn State entered the Big Ten in 1993.
The start of a prescribed rivalry
Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993 and then-Michigan State head football coach George Perles thought it was a good idea to create a rivalry game between the schools. Penn State and Michigan State did not meet regularly prior to the 1993 season and are not close geographically, so a rivalry did not really make much sense. The thing that Perles and Joe Paterno saw as an opportunity though, was that Penn State and Michigan State are the two original land grant universities. This alone was the start of a game that was to be played at the end of each season. The winner receiving the Land Grant Trophy, which is very ugly.
What is a land grant university?
According to the Association of Public & Land Grant Universities, a land grant university is one “that has been designated by its state legislature or Congress to receive the benefits of the Morrill Acts of 1862, 1890, and 1994.” Further, the original mission of these universities according to the Morrill Act of 1862 “was to teach agriculture, military tactics, and the mechanic arts as well as classical studies so members of the working classes could obtain a liberal, practical education.” Penn State and Michigan State were both founded in 1855 as agriculture schools. Michigan State out of the Michigan Constitution of 1850 and Penn State out of a gifted 200-acres of land from James Irvin.
The history of the Land Grant Trophy would not be complete without a mental picture of the monstrous structure. The trophy was designed by Perles in 1993 after he came up with the idea for the rivalry game. It is a large structure made with many different ledges and shelves. It has small figurines of both the Nittany Lion and the Spartan. In addition, there are several pictures of iconic buildings at both universities. All-in-all it is an ugly trophy that looks very heavy.
There are many other ways the history of the land grant universities could have been incorporated. Why not use a trophy that is built like a tractor, or a farmer to pay homage to the agricultural roots of each university? Maybe a farming tool, or a farm animal? We may never know why Perles decided to make such an ugly trophy, but it is the one that attends each Penn State vs. Michigan State game and is hoisted in the air by the winning team at the end.
Penn State vs. Michigan State Through The Years
Growing up I can always remember that the coldest game of the year was going to be Michigan State. It was always the game after Thanksgiving, which is late November and very cold in central Pennsylvania. Paterno had Penn State open the dorm buildings a few days early so students would be back in the student section for the annual affair.
There is a new wrinkle in the history of the Land Grant Trophy. The last two years Penn State and Michigan State have gotten away from being each other’s last game. This year the game is being played in the beginning of October. Last year, the beginning of November. This change did not fair too well for the Nittany Lions a season ago when they traveled to East Lansing. The game was in weather delay for nearly six hours. Penn State eventually lost the match up by three points. Their College Football Playoff hopes drifted away.
The Land Grant Trophy spends the majority of its time in Happy Valley. While it currently resides in East Lansing, its home has been University Park 14 out of the 22 seasons the match up occurred.
Penn State dominated the Spartans in the 90’s, 5-2. The inaugural Land Grant Trophy game in 1993 was decided by one point, the Nittany Lions came out on top 38-37. Michigan State has never kept the Land Grant Trophy more than two years in a row. Penn State has a long streak of four games from 1993-1996. Penn State dominated the match-up again through the first ten years of the 2000s. The boys in basic blues only gave the trophy up three times before the “rivalry” went dormant for three years from 2011-2013. For those three seasons Wisconsin was the final game on the schedule.
Michigan State and Penn State reappeared on each other’s schedules in 2014. Since then the Land Grant Trophy has mainly resided in East Lansing. The only year it came home to Happy Valley was in 2016.
Looking ahead to Saturday
This year the “rivalry” lands on Homecoming for Penn State. James Franklin has stated in the past that the history of the Land Grant Trophy is important to the Nittany Lions. Before the match up last season, he stated, “We need to work really hard to make sure that we keep the Land Grant Trophy as much as we possibly can because we take a lot of pride in it…It’s one of the cool things about college football.” The goal was not accomplished last season. Homecoming is always a special time in Happy Valley. Penn State is coming off of a bye week. All signs point to the trophy coming home.
Key Players Ready
It was announced this week that Shane Simmons will return to the lineup this weekend. Simmons missed Penn State’s first five games due to injury. In this week’s press conference Franklin stated that the defensive end will ease back into the lineup on Saturday. As a freshman last season Simmons had 15 total tackles, 4.5 for loss, and one sack. The sophomore is mainly a pass rusher, something that Penn State will need against an offense that Franklin stated “is as multiple as you’ll probably see.”
Franklin also stated this week that stand-out receiver KJ Hamler should be ready to play after suffering a head injury against Ohio State two weeks ago. The bye week came at the perfect time for the offense, as Hamler has been Trace McSorley‘s go-to guy the first half of the season. Hamler has 309 receiving yards and five total touchdowns through five games this season.
New Homecoming Tradition
Not only did James Franklin give player updates this week, he also announced a new Homecoming tradition. The first bus in the line that arrives at Beaver Stadium a few hours before kick-off will hold Penn State football lettermen. The lettermen will lead the current players into the stadium. It will be done every year on Homecoming as a way to show respect and honor the players that have come before.
The History Continues
The history of the Land Grant Trophy will get a new chapter this Saturday when the Spartans enter Beaver Stadium. Penn State looks to avenge a loss last season that potentially kept them out of playoff contention. The clash of the original land grant universities will kick-off at 3:30 pm ET on Big Ten Network.