We take a look at why Penn State is called the Nittany Lions, and the history of their mascot. They take on the Purdue Boilermakers in the Big 10 championship game.

The No. 10 seed Penn State Nittany Lions (20-12) take on the No. 1 Purdue Boilermakers (26-5) in the 2023 Big Ten Tournament championship game on Sunday 12 March.

The Boilermakers have super-star 7fter Zach Edey, who has ben tearing up the college basketball scene, but the Lions are no stranger to an upset.

Why are Penn State called the Nittany Lions?

Ahead of the game, fans wanted to know why Penn State are known as the Nittany Lions. That’s because Pennsylvania State University is located next to Mount Nittany, which in the past was the home of wild mountain lions.

Sadly, though, mountain lions in Centre County, Pennsylvania were extinct from around 1893.

In 1907 the school adopted the Nittany Lion mascot after the school’s baseball team went up against the Princeton Tigers.

Photo by Ned Dishman/Getty Images

It was inspired by a stuffed mountain lion

Penn State third baseman Harrison “Joe” Mason coined the phrase “Nittany Lion”. It was an impromptu response to defend the team’s honor vs the Princeton Tiger.

It is said that Mason was inspired by a stuffed Pennsylvania Mountain Lion in the original Old Main museum that her passed by regularly.

He later recalled he told the Princetonians: “Well, up at Penn State we have Mount Nittany right on our campus, where rules the Nittany Mountain Lion, who has never been beaten in a fair fight. So, Princeton Tiger, look out!”

The Lions would beat the Tigers and Mason was determined to create a lasting mascot. The Nittany Lion isn’t actually a real animal so there was initially a fair bit of confusion as to what the costume should look like.

After various iterations, including of an African lion, the school settled on a mountain lion. It has now become one of the most well-known mascots in college football.

Photo by Rick Stewart /Getty Images

Old Coaly was an unofficial mascot

However, the Nittany Lion was not the school’s first mascot.

Their unofficial first mascot was Old Coaly, a mule which was reportedly purchased by the university in 1863 for $190 and helped with farm chores and construction around campus.

Eventually Old Coaly was replaced by the Nittany Lion, which probably makes for a more intimidating mascot.