Football NCAA

Whiteout in the Happiest of Valleys!

“That which does not kill us, makes us stronger” – Nietzsche

I closed my summary of the Rose Bowl and the Lions 2016 season with that quote from famed philosopher Friederich Nietzche, not to be confused with former Green Bay Packer linebacker Ray Nitschke. Granted, I’m more familiar with the latter, but I can attest that truer words could not be spoken.

Flashback to October 1, 2016. The Lions were 2-2, losing to in-state rival Pitt and coming off a brutal 49-10 loss at Michigan. James Franklin was on the hot seat and the program looked like it was ready for its fifth head coach in six years. The Lions were hosting Minnesota and staring at another loss – down 23-20 with 0:54 to go.

After a dramatic drive to tie the score, it happened. A pivotal overtime 1-play, 25-yard touchdown run by an up-and-coming sophomore running back.  The victory was sealed and the run breathed life back into the program.  While that dramatic run was important to the die-hard fans, the stunning upset just two games later against the highly ranked Buckeyes reinvigorated an entire community.

Since then, the Lions continued their blistering pace back into the national spotlight – this time, for all the right reasons.

Fast forward to this past weekend. Penn State played host to that same Michigan program that embarrassed them a year ago.  This time, it’s different.

ESPN’s College Gameday is in town. The Lions are ranked #2 in the country, behind Alabama – a team that could probably compete in the NFL. Franklin is locked into a 6-year $34.7M contract while turning away suitors via Twitter.  And that up-and-coming sophomore? He’s now THE leading candidate for the Heisman, Saquon Barkely.  That which does not kill us, makes us stronger!

We took some time Friday morning to explore Bellefonte. This tiny town about a dozen miles outside of State College is like a throwback in time. Quaint coffee shops, Victorian architecture and flags honoring those who served on the antique lampposts throughout the town.

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Bellefonte got its name from its natural spring that sits in Talleyrand Park and acts as the town’s primary water supply. Also inside the park was a bust of Abe Lincoln, by famed sculptor, George Grey Barnard. Just alongside the park sits the relatively new Big Springs Spirits, a distillery opened by a couple of Penn Staters in 2014.

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Honest Abe
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Big Spring Spirits at the Match Factory

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I also learned that Bellefonte was also the home of the patriarch of the Mills Brothers, William Hutchinson Mills.  The Mills Brothers were a Big Band from the 30s through the 80s and happened to be a favorite of my mother.

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Friday night, we took in our first ever Penn State Hockey game at Pegula Ice Arena. The B1G Champion Lions took on American International in the second of 2-game series with the Lions taking the first game Thursday night, 7-5.

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B1G Trophy!

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This place was fantastic. Close to the ice from every seat, the Roar Zone Student Section behind the opponent’s net, and the Nittany Lion on ice.

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Relentless Roar Zone!

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Tonight, the Lions struggled. After going up twice, the Yellow Jackets tied the game late in the 3rd and won it on a breakaway with 1:13 to play in OT.

We can’t wait to have these guys visit the desert next month when they play the Sun Devils.

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Then came Saturday! Gameday. Literally and figuratively. With ESPN’s flagship college football morning program in town from 9-12 on Saturday morning, downtown State College was hoppin’.

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Gameday Crew on the Old Main Lawn

Kirk Herbstreit’s love affair with Penn State recently is well documented. In addition to his admiration for the quality of men to come out of the program, to the Whiteout and the student section, he’s probably one of the most vocal proponents of the Nittany Lions. He even made a comment about the signs during Gameday.  In his view, the concept of the signs might not have been invented at Penn State, but it was definitely perfected there.

One of the omnipresent items you’ll see at Gameday is the Washington State Cougar flag. The trend started in October 2003 and has continued for over 200 straight weeks! This crew is a group of Wazzu grads who happen to teach at Penn State.

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Another usual site are the “Big Uglies”. These guys started their trend back in the 90s and have become legend in their own right. We met up with them last year at the B1G Championship game when one of them was tackled by an over-aggressive fan. He said he’s healed up and ready for Gameday!

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Penn State buttons are another tradition that dates back decades. They usually highlight a pretty clever play on words or gentle poke at the competition.  Today’s button, “The sky isn’t blue and yellow”. Here’s a guy that took it to the max during Gameday. You had to hear him walk…

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The Penn State Pride was on full display all over town. The RV lots were already packed when we arrive on Thursday night. Downtown, you’d see dedicated fans sporting the blue and white in all different forms.  How’s this for a vehicle?

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One of my favorite places to visit in town is The Student Book Store. There, you can find just about anything Penn State. One of the unique displays they have are the steps that lead to the upper floor. On the right side, they have the All-Time tackling leaders and on the left side are the Penn State All-Time Rushing leaders.

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How many “steps” will Saquon take tonight?

We made our way over to the tailgate area by about noon for the 7:30 kickoff. How did we know when we found our group among the tens of thousands of fans? By the flag banners of course! This is just one of about 4 tents strung together, creating enough cover for plenty of fans. Thankfully, today the cover was from the sun!

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A beacon!

Our hosts, John and Debbie took us in like family again. As we’re standing there, John spotted a couple of UofM fans passing by and just had to invite them in for a beverage. That’s when I realized this couple just loves having a good time. That’s what tailgating at Penn State is all about!

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John with some Meat Chicken fans

I’ve written about this elaborate tailgate setup before, but how many tailgates do you go to that have a chalkboard menu that covers two meals and calls Brats and Dogs “snacks”!?!?

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Seriously? Three meals at a tailgate?

Another beautiful thing about Penn State is the location of the tailgating. At least today, with sunny skies, parking out in the open fields in the grass is the perfect way to spend the day. No concrete and asphalt here!IMG_5004

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Mount Nittany

Before long, it was time to get to the fan-favorite Bus Arrival. This week was slightly more crowded than for Georgia State.

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Afterward, we caught up with a former colleague of mine at his tailgate in the shadows of the stadium. Quite the contrast from the grass fields to the parking lot, but nonetheless, another outstanding setup and a group of friendlies – and within a two-minute walk to the gates!

Before long, it was time to head inside!

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Electric doesn’t even begin to describe the environment tonight. The Whiteout crowd was on full display, aided no doubt by decent weather.

Within 43 seconds, the crowd was the loudest I have ever heard it at Beaver Stadium. Heisman hopeful, Saquon Barkley took the “Wild Lion” snap and raced 69 yards for a TD. The place went nuts!

After a 3-and-out by the Lions defense, Barkley capped another drive with a 15-yard TD to put the home team up 14-0 in under 5 minutes and provided as many points as they would need the rest of the night.

The Wolverines cut the lead after a turnover, but former Penn State commit Quinn Nordin missed the extra point – and again the educated crowd went wild! It was the first missed PAT for the Michigan freshman. Nordin flipped his commitment after Michigan HC, Jim Harbaugh had a sleepover at the youngster’s house. Ahhh..Recruiting…

Another TD by Michigan cut the lead again to 14-13, but the Lions answered on their next drive, then started to dominate. Michigan would be shut out the rest of the way and Penn State cruised to a 42-13 victory – even easing off the throttle late in the fourth quarter by getting some backups some valuable playing time.

Franklin called for 110k plus to flood the stadium in white. A bold ask for a stadium that only holds 107k. Add to that, the populated cities of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia sit about 3 hours away in either direction and it’s no easy task to sell out America’s 2nd largest stadium. Think about it. The average NFL stadium seats under 70k people and are located in the major population centers of the US.

Here, in the middle of Pennsylvania. In a town of about 42,000 people, almost 111,000 people filled a stadium to cheer on a team that was written off for dead just six short years ago. The mark sets a record for the highest attendance in Beaver Stadium history.

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“That which does not kill us, makes us stronger” – Nietzsche

Stop Wondering, Start Wandering!

 

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