Football NCAA

Top 10 Matchup in a Whiteout!

The Whiteout. Most people who follow the sport will tell you that it’s the absolute best atmosphere in college football – maybe all sports. The visual of 110,000+ fans, the vast majority wearing white, is simply awesome.

I’ve been to other Whiteouts. Even Blackouts and Stripeouts, but throw in pregame fireworks, white pompoms for all, perfect football weather and a battle between two Top 10 teams and you’ve got the ingredients for a once-in-a-lifetime sports spectacular.

The Penn State Whiteout got its first attention in 2005 when the #6 Ohio State Buckeyes visited Happy Valley to take on the #16 Nittany Lions. Penn State used the extra boost to take down the Buckeyes, 17-10 in an epic Big Ten Battle. That year, Penn State would go on to take down Florida State in the Orange Bowl, capping an 11-1 season and finishing 3rd in the polls while Ohio State beat Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl to finish the season 10-2 and #4 overall.

Since then, Penn State has hosted the Whiteout thirteen additional times, but this night would be the first ever Whiteout matchup of two Top 10 teams. The stars were aligned!

We made our way to State College on Wednesday this time – much earlier in the week than normal, but I had the opportunity to be a guest lecturer on Thursday.  My presentation would be delivered to their Security and Risk Analysis 221 class. My topic? The Business of CyberCrime. It was a great opportunity to share my thoughts on why a career in fighting “virtual” criminals is so vital – and rewarding.

Of course, flying into State College is always a crap shoot. While in the air on our flight from Phoenix, I checked in online to see that our connecting flight into Happy Valley was already canceled – supposedly due to weather – with no more flights into State College until the next morning. Thanks, American. Fortunately, I was able to rebook into Harrisburg, where I would rent a car for the 100-mile drive.

Flying into Harrisburg, you pass by one of the most notorious nuclear facilities in America – Three Mile Island. Back in 1979, one of the reactors had issues that caused widespread fear of nuclear contamination. While there was certainly cause for concern, nothing catastrophic occurred – at least to my knowledge.

IMG_6456On Thursday night, we hit up Primanti’s for the Penn State Coaches show.  The voice of the Nittany Lions, Steve Jones, hosts a radio show where Coach Franklin and another coach from a different team take questions from the audience.  A 10-year old from Manhattan Beach asked Coach what it would take to be recruited by Penn State.  Franklin didn’t miss a beat.  He encouraged the youngster to get good grades first, then asked him for 20 push-ups. Franklin also joked that Manhattan Beach is right up there with Happy Valley and Scranton.

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Afterward, we stopped by Nittanyville (aka Paternoville) to check out the campers that had been set up since Sunday night in anticipation of the largest, most significant game in recent memory. The sign shows over 700 campers had committed to camping out throughout the week in order to secure the coveted front row seats.

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Tonight, Coach Franklin, the QBs and RBs would deliver pizza and other goodies to the student faithful. We even got a taste of the newly created flavor from the Creamery, Whiteout. I will say, popcorn flavored ice cream with white chocolate chips didn’t sound too appealing, but it was actually pretty tasty.

ABC’s Chris Fowler made an appearance as well. They had a planned interview with Heisman candidate, Trace McSorely. Before the interview, I got a chance to speak with Chris and asked him about other gameday atmospheres that rival that of Penn State. He said the Whiteout is certainly special, but that other campuses offer a week-in and week-out atmosphere that are top notch as well. First school out of his mouth? Oregon. Maybe it’s because he was in Eugene last week, but I have always heard great things about it. He also added LSU. I guess it validates why I’ve already had those two on my personal bucket list.

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Friday night, we hit one of our favorite restaurants in State College, The Field. The hour-long wait is only bearable due to their selection of craft beers on tap. This burger and brew joint takes it up a notch with their “table fries” and “hard milkshakes”.

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Adding to the atmosphere this week was ESPN’s College Gameday. They set up shop again on the Old Main lawn Saturday morning. The campers of Nittanyville got a bit of a reprieve as they were allowed to take down their tents Friday night so they can get to Gameday by 6:00am on Saturday. Fowler also tried to be humble when he commented that it’s never been Gameday’s intention to make the scene bigger than it is, but instead it’s to capture the true environment without additional fanfare. Hard to believe that’s the case anymore, but nice try.

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We saw this guy at last year’s Whiteout but missed the opportunity to take a photo.  His jacket is covered in bank buttons from the past 20+ years. You can hear him come from a mile away… When asked how much the creation weighs, he said he’s afraid to weigh it since he has to wear it.

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One of the best traditions of Gameday are the creative signs. This year, given the recent issues with Urban Meyer and Ohio State, I was expecting the worst. I was pleasantly surprised by the content of the signs – except for a couple of stragglers. Here are two of my favorites from the day.

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Before long, it was time to tailgate! Nothing compares to tailgating at Penn State – especially when the weather cooperates. With temps in the mid-60s and partly cloudy skies, the parking lots were loaded up early. No messing around here.  They open the gates at 8am – even for a 7:45pm kickoff! That’s quite a day. And think about it…there are over 110,000 fans – that’s over twice as many as the Chargers, Raiders, and Bengals averaged last year.  And that’s not counting the endless number of people who go just to tailgate. Heck, a couple of our friends did just that. Lisa and Donnie and their friends spent the day tailgating, then headed home to watch the game on TV.

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The pregame festivities today also included welcoming Kerry Collins back to Penn State and honoring him for his recent induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. He posed for an hour as endless streams of fans, young and old, stood to shake his hand and take a photo alongside the 1994 Rose Bowl Trophy.

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The Big Uglies were also on hand. I’ve written about these guys before, but they were in the news again this week. These guys have been a fixture at Penn State games, home and away, for over 20 years. Last week, they posted that they were no longer able to walk around the stadium during the game – that they would need to be seated. Apparently, a “fan” complained. Are you kidding me? Immediate outrage took over social media and Penn State quickly rectified the situation – allowing them to roam again. Finally, something good came from social media…

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Local band, My Hero Zero even performed along Curtain Rd just outside the stadium. This band is one of the best in State College so to have them perform during pregame was pretty special.

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We made our way over to another tailgate, which happens to be a couple of rows from the stadium. Our friends from Scranton always welcome us in for a quick beverage. There, we met with some others from Scranton and quickly made connections to common friends. Penn State Football alum Eric Shrive was one of those attending the party.

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Eric Shrive carrying JoePa after his 409th!

Before long, we were on our way to a third tailgate. Our friends from Phoenix set up shop not far from the stadium, using the Tailgate Guys. And what a setup it was! Catered tailgating at its finest. Steps from the stadium and fully stocked to your specs with no worries of setup or tear-down. Another Penn State legend, Lee Rubin, stopped by to meet up with our host, Rose, who has hired Lee in the past to speak at her corporate events.

As much fun as it is outside the stadium, inside at a Whiteout is incredible. Forty minutes before kickoff and the place is jammed with white and not a cloud in the sky.

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Our seats were two rows from the top, on the west side of the stadium, just under the press box. Just above us to our left were the ABC crew of Chris and Kirk. For how high up we were, the seats were actually pretty good.

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The one downside to packing 110k into the stadium is that you’re smashed in next to everyone. Hopefully, you can make quick friends, otherwise, it will be a long night. Tonight, we met a father and son sitting in front of us, who made the road trip from Tulsa, Oklahoma. The father was originally from State College and a huge Penn State fan. If you need evidence of that, just check out this ink.

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“We Are JVP 409”

Last year’s Whiteout against Michigan set a record with 110,823. That game had a #2 Penn State seeking revenge against the #19 Wolverines. Of course, tonight’s matchup topped that number again – 110,889!

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The game, yet again, didn’t disappoint. Penn State took control and dominated early, but didn’t put up a lot of points. Their lone TD coming off an explosive 93-yard catch/run by freshman phenom, KJ Hamler. They took a 13-7 lead into halftime, but you knew there was plenty left to play.

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The Buckeyes took the 2nd half kick and drove down to take the lead back, 14-13. It wasn’t until the 4th quarter that Penn State struck back with a nifty TD catch by yet another freshman, Pat Freiermuth, then again on their next possession when Miles Sanders pounded it in from the 1 – opening up a 12-point lead. 26-14 PSU.

Undeterred, the Bucs answered to cut the lead to 26-21 with their next drive, then took the lead again on their following possession after being pinned at their own 4. 27-26 Bucs.

Penn State is never out of it when you have time and Trace McSorely. Tonight, he personally put up 175 rushing yards and another 286 through the air – accounting for 94% of Penn State’s total offensive production. Trace opened the drive with yet another great pass/catch with Freiermuth, but before long it was 4th and 5 from the OSU 43. Then came the call that had everyone scratching their heads.

Ohio State blew up the Sanders run and they were able to run out the clock.

Heartbreaking. Stunned silence. Disbelief.

Just like last year, the Buckeyes overcame a fourth-quarter deficit, after being manhandled all day by Penn State. The Buckeye fans in the upper reaches of the stadium celebrated while Pennsylvania’s 3rd largest city collectively stood silent.

There’s no doubt that Penn State Football is on the right track. It was just over six years ago when the draconian sanctions were announced. At that point, everyone had left them for dead. Irrelevant. Toxic. Some argued the death penalty would have been a lesser sentence due to the lingering effects of scholarship reductions.

Cooler heads prevailed and sanctions were rescinded, but not before the damage was done. Penn State is still recovering, but their ability to compete at the highest levels so quickly after those penalties is astounding. Franklin continues to secure recruits and this program is primed to compete for years to come.

Keep the faith. As long as Franklin continues to push success on and off the field, I’m on board.

I’ve said it before, but if you are a fan of college football, a Whiteout is a must. Penn State fans are spoiled that they have the ability to go to one of these annually. But when it’s a Top 10 matchup, it sets a whole new level of excitement.

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Before long, it was back to the airport to head home. With our daughter graduating in May, this could be one of the last games we see in Happy Valley. Our plan is to start catching them on the road – starting in two weeks in Indiana!

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Stop wondering. Start wandering!

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