Second skin

"Are you looking at my bum?" John Loomis for ESPN The Magazine

This feature story appears in the November 30, 2009 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

If you didn't know any better, you might think it was a miserable night in State College. "The kind of cold," says a smiling Penn State cheerleader, "that makes your eyelashes freeze." And yet as far as the eye can see, the homecoming parade continues: Dancers spin to the sound of a remixed "Sweet Caroline"; jugglers toss flaming batons; the alumni band members rock their gray socks off; former CIA spy and PSU alum Valerie Plame Wilson floats by in a convertible. But they are not the main attraction. No, the most popular cat on campus, the one whom all have come to see, is furiously backflipping his way up College Avenue, a furry, golden, manic blur.

"We want the Lion!" come the repeated screams. And there he is, the Penn State Nittany Lion, diving on laps and handing out high fives. Coeds hang from windows. "Yo, Lion, what up?" yell the boys from South Philly. The Lion mugs for cameras, dishes out hugs; more screams, more photos. Then, suddenly, he's performing his signature move, the one-armed push-up, from which he bounces to raise his paws and lead the crowd in a perfectly timed one, two, three, four cheer: We are ... Penn State.