After last season’s debacle, there’s no doubt we were anxious for this college football season to begin. Between COVID lockdowns, no fans in the stands, and Penn State’s 4-5 record, it was a year to forget. The hope of a return to normalcy was a beacon that guided us throughout a tumultuous year.
I don’t know about you, but for me, planning a trip is almost as enjoyable as actually being on a trip. I love researching an area and scouting out the best places to eat, the must-see sites, the hidden gems, and the local traditions that make our country so unique. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time researching and planning our trips for the fall.
It’s always a challenge deciding which games to attend because we have such conflicting desires – and a limited travel budget. The first priority is to repeat the experience that is Happy Valley and a Whiteout. There’s nothing like it, that we’ve found yet anyway, that compares. Granted it’s usually reserved for the “best” or “most challenging” game of the season, but there’s always so much energy and excitement leading up to the game – not just the game atmosphere itself. And for us, traveling to see games is about so much more than the 3-1/2 hours that you’re in the stadium.
That brings me to our second desire – to experience the other Big Ten campuses and surrounding areas cities or towns. Each school has its own traditions. Their own unique foods. Their own unique campuses. While we’ve seen Penn State home and away several times, it wasn’t until recently that we decided to visit all of the B1G venues. So, to date, we’ve only visited Ohio State, Indiana, and Iowa. Where would we travel this year? Decisions, decisions.
After checking the schedules and our availability, we decided to hit two Penn State games – one home and one away, and the Bills game in Nashville. With Wisconsin being the opening weekend, it made for an easy decision for our away game. And of course, with Auburn visiting Happy Valley for the Whiteout, it was a “no-brainer”. The chance to see an SEC school at the Whiteout is a very unique opportunity.
Both games would take place in September, so cold weather would not be a factor – another criterion that’s fairly high on the list. With the Bills game in Nashville in mid-October, our schedule was complete. That is until we decided that we could possibly squeeze in one more road game before the weather got too nasty. Enter, Maryland.
I’ll be honest, College Park and Maryland weren’t high on our list, but since it is a B1G school, and our plan is to hit all B1G stadiums, we figured, why not? We had gone to a game in Maryland in the past, but it was 1989 and played in the old Baltimore Memorial Stadium – a baseball stadium that the Orioles and Colts called home. In fact, Memorial Stadium was previously known as Babe Ruth Stadium – since the Bambino was originally from Baltimore. That abysmal day ended in a 13-13 tie – the last time a Penn State game ended in a tie. That year, Penn State finished 8-3-1 with an exciting win over Ty Detmer and BYU in the Holiday Bowl.
Pop quiz! How many ties does Penn State have to its credit?
What I didn’t realize when I started to research the trip was how close College Park Maryland is to DC. The campus sits 30 minutes south of Baltimore-Washington Airport and 30 minutes north of Ronald Reagan Airport (DCA) – so we had our choice of airports. With car rental prices still so high and DC home to one of the best subway systems in America, “the Metro”, we decided to fly into DCA and use the train to get around.
Normally, we would tour the campus and nearby town on the Friday before a game, but with our expectations so low, we decided to stay in DC and tour our nation’s capital. We’ve toured the city before, both with and without kids, but there is just so much to see. On this trip, we focused on just two museums – the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and the relatively new Museum of the Bible.
On our way to the Smithsonian, we spotted Trump’s Washington Hotel along Pennsylvania Ave. It turned out that this was a living museum in itself!
We stopped in for a coffee to check out the controversial property. Entering the building, you immediately realize that this place is pure opulence. The valet area was full of high-end vehicles. The bellmen are dressed to impress. They greet you with a smile as they open the door to the grand facility. We almost felt like we didn’t belong there. It’s high-end and just feels pretentious.
They guided us to the bar area in the atrium where we ordered our coffees – to go. We gazed around at the absolutely stunning atrium lobby.
Chenee, our bartender, delivered our coffees and we commented on how we envied her office view. She lit up and told us all about the building and its history. We learned that it’s the old Post Office that was originally constructed in 1899. Its purpose has changed over the years to include other federal offices and even a “festival marketplace” that included cheap retail shops, a food court-like atmosphere, and even a miniature golf course.
It even survived a couple of attempts to demolish it – and I’m not talking about the media’s attempt to demolish it under Trump. She reminded us of the controversy about the building when Trump was renovating it. He was awarded a lease on the property in 2013, in exchange for a commitment to invest over $200M in renovations. He opened it just before the election in 2016. Like everything Trump, it was a target and remains very polarizing. The media blasted him and his plans before, during and, after the negotiations. Upon completion, the building was called “garish” by some but yet earned the coveted Forbes 5-star rating. Vanity Fair, outspoken Trump critics, blared “Trump’s DC Hotel is a frightful dump – and a scary metaphor for the Trump Presidency”. I don’t know about you, but I think it looks a lot better now than a miniature golf course and kiosks selling “I walked my feet off in Washington” salt and pepper shakers.
The bar features a menu that honors Benjamin Franklin – America’s first Postmaster. Franklin was definitely known to imbibe, so the quote is perfect for him.
The lobby also contains “The Experience Salon”. This tasting room just off the bar area is available by reservation and offers some of the rarest alcohols on the planet. Of course, they have the Louis XIII cognac, but that’s rather pedestrian for this place.
For the entry price of a nightly stay here, a mere $500, you can try two, 2oz tastings of some vintage ports. If you’re not that thirsty and 4 ounces is too much for you, you can sip some rare wines off of a crystal spoon! Entering the hotel I thought we didn’t belong here. Now I know we don’t belong here!
Behind the bar, the building stretches upwards, past the decanter display to the Bell Tower. The Tower, at just 315ft, makes this the third tallest building in DC behind the Washington Monument and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Of course, COVID shut down tours to the top of the tower.
Chenee told us that she has been with the Hotel since before its opening in 2016. She was touring the hotel while it was still under construction and told us she recalled thinking there was no way it would finish on time. Construction crews were sharing their vision of how the property would ultimately look and she couldn’t see it. In the end, it all came together. She’s incredibly proud to work there. She told us her grandmother used to work in the facility and she recalled visiting it when it was the “festival marketplace.” Now, she’s a great ambassador for the historic hotel.
Outside, there’s an 1899 statue of Ben Franklin. The statue was commissioned by the founder of the Washington Post newspaper – as Franklin was a publisher and printer. It was originally positioned at the Post’s building, but the statue was moved to this location in 1980. It fits well since Ben was the first Postmaster of the US.
Unfortunately, protestors don’t have any respect for public property. They have vandalized the statue calling Franklin a “Slave Owner” and “Rapist”. I don’t know if this happened before or after Trump signed his EO on protecting federal statues. Regardless, I don’t understand how it isn’t cleaned up by now.
After this impromptu stop, we made our way to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. The Museum’s purpose is “to collect, care for, study, and interpret objects that reflect the experience of the American people.”
Early American history was on display with Edison’s lightbulb the highlight of the “Lighting a Revolution” exhibit. The transportation area, known as “America on the Move” had displays from trains to cars, to motorcycles and everything in between.
Of course, you can’t escape politics these days – especially when in Washington DC. In the “Girlhood” exhibit, which opened in October 2020, they offered up blank cards for girls to write in their answers to topical questions. If you can’t make it to DC, Girlhood will be touring the US in 2023-2025.
My favorite part of the museum was the Star-Spangled Banner section. Here, in a light-controlled room, sits the flag that flew over Baltimore’s Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. This very flag was the inspiration for Francis Scott Key’s Star-Spangled Banner that would become our National Anthem. The exhibit includes a history of the flag and how it was handed down for generations before finally being gifted to the Smithsonian in 1912. Click on this link for a quick history lesson on the flag, Francis Scott Key, and the National Anthem.
The Museum also housed an exhibit on the Presidents and First Ladies. While much of the displays were dedicated to their gowns or china/tea sets, little was said about the causes they supported. It was acknowledged that the first First Lady to publically adopt a cause was Lady Bird Johnson. In 1964 she announced her intentions to fight a war on poverty and to beautify America’s public spaces. I’d like to see more on the impact of First Lady initiatives.
After spending over three hours in the Smithsonian, it was time to move on. We opted to check out the relatively new Museum of the Bible, which opened in November 2017. Unlike the Smithsonian, the MotB is not funded by taxpayer dollars. From its website, the Museum of the Bible is a global, innovative, educational institution whose purpose is to invite all people to engage with the transformative power of the Bible.
With only an hour until closing, we were advised that we should take the 30-minute journey through time with movies and scenes that outline the origins of the Bible. You walk from room to room through different vignettes.
From there, we only had enough time to cover one additional exhibit so we opted for the “Impact of the Bible” section. Here, you learn how very integrated the Bible and its teachings are in everyday life and throughout the world. Many everyday sayings can be traced back to the Bible and each country around the globe references the Bible in its own way.
We did not do our visit justice. We needed much more time to explore the four floors dedicated to the Bible. Nex time.
The next morning we were up and out early for the game! Walking to the Metro in Chinatown, the temps were in the high 30s. I think it was about then when my wife said, “how did I let you talk me into a November game back east?” After a quick 30-minute train ride, we were in College Park, Maryland.
From the train station to the edge of campus was just a 10-minute walk through their Frat Row. It was 10:00am and I don’t know if the music was still thumping from the night before or if they were up and at it early.
We entered Campus along Regents Drive and were immediately impressed with the landscape. First impression? There are hills and trees! I don’t know why, but we weren’t expecting that. We thought it would be more of a city campus, but Baltimore Ave was a clear delineation between College Park and the Campus – not unlike how College Ave divides State College and University Park.
And not only were there trees but there were colorful trees! A bonus for having traveled back during this time of year. Fall back east is so much different than in the Valley of the Sun.
Entering campus, you pass a bus stop that is now home to a memorial of Richard Collins III. Collins, a black man and ROTC candidate at Bowie State University, was mortally stabbed by a drunk white student in May 2017. Collins was visiting the campus and was with two friends when he was attacked at 3:00am. The assailant emerged from the woods and plunged the knife into Collins’ chest. Because the suspect was known to belong to alt-right hate groups, he was charged with a hate crime and was sentenced to life in prison, with the possibility of parole. His defense team doesn’t deny he murdered Collins, but they claim he was too drunk to know what he was doing and race was not involved.
On the way towards their Quad, you pass by their Chapel. Not on the campus more than 3 minutes and we could tell we already liked it. The architecture, the green, the hills, the cleanliness. It really took us by surprise.
Just past the Chapel is McKeldin Mall. At over 9 acres, it’s the largest academic Mall/Quad area in the country – and was voted one of the most picturesque. And I don’t disagree!
While you can’t tell in the pictures, it’s a fairly steady incline from the bottom to the top – running east to west. In the middle of the Mall there is a series of reflecting pools that flow into each other.
Lining the mall are several academic buildings, like the Francis Scott Key Hall.
Near the top of the Mall sits a sundial. It’s in memory of the Dutch astronomer, Uco van Wijk, who founded the astronomy program at the University. It works well, but there’s no sign of a Daylight Savings Time setting. Around here, there’s an unintended echo spot that plays tricks with your ears.
At the end of the Mall sits the McKeldin Library and in front the University’s mascot, Testudo, a Diamondback Terrapin. Before they were the Terrapins, they were known as the Old Liners. In 1932, Coach Curley Byrd recommended the Terrapin for their mascot. Byrd chose this as their mascot because it’s native to the nearby Chesapeake Bay. Did you know a terrapin spends more time on land than a turtle and more time in the water than a tortoise?
Behind the Library sits Anne Arundel Hall, a coed dorm that’s home to about 100 students. The Hall is within a 5-minute walk to most classrooms on campus.
Another popular photo spot on campus is the Jim Henson and Kermit the Frog statue that sits outside the Student Union. Henson is a 1960 grad of Maryland and creator of The Muppets and the famous green frog.
Like in Wisconsin, where Bucky the Badger was everywhere, here too Testudo shows up throughout campus.
Maryland Stadium dates back to 1950. It was built to replace the original Old Byrd Stadium, named after the then football coach, Curley Byrd. Back then it was known as the Byrd Cage and used to be located across Baltimore Ave, where Frat Row is today. Byrd went on to become the University’s President for nearly two decades from 1936-1954 – when he resigned to run for Governor on the Democratic ticket. Byrd would lose to the Republican incumbent Theodore McKeldin – the same McKeldin for which the Mall is named.
When the stadium was completed it took on Byrd’s name – until 2015 when cries to have his name removed since he was said to have supported segregation during the race for Governor in 1954. Today it’s known as Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium. It seats just over 58,000 with the record being 58,973 when #9 Penn State visited # 13 Maryland in 1975. The Lions won that game 15-13 thanks to a last-minute Maryland FG that hit the upright before bouncing out.
One rather morbid aspect of the stadium is the McNamee cemetery that sits right next to the facility. The McNamee Family sold the land around the stadium to the University but the cemetery remains – no pun intended. The University covered the graves in brick to preserve the integrity of the site.
Early on you could tell that Penn State would be well represented for the matchup. Tailgaters set up steps from the stadium and there was plenty of blue and white.
We planned to meet our friends at a nearby tailgating spot. They set up there every time as it offers easy parking, is about a 5-minute walk to the stadium, has indoor rest rooms and, access to a bar and grill! What more can you want?!?! Word was definitely out – especially among the team parents. We were surrounded by families and even had a nice chat with Terence Cain, father of RB Noah Cain.
On the walk over to meet them, we passed more incredible campus scenery, including University House, a meeting and event center that’s tucked away behind some awesome landscaping.
One thing that was incredibly bizarre is that they allow parking on the very busy highway just outside of the stadium. Cars were parking all along University Blvd, the four-lane divided road. Fans were exiting their vehicles and walking along the stretch of road that skirts the western edge of the campus.
When we met up with our friends, we were greeted with a Blue Stripe beer! With next week’s game being the first official Helmet Stripe Game at Beaver Stadium, I’m guessing this beer from Axemann Brewery in Bellefonte will be a big seller. Notice the resemblance?
Given that we were visiting in November, any weather is possible. We opted to get tickets under cover just in case. As it turned out, we didn’t need them. The 3:30pm kickoff was a pleasant 55 degrees and by the end of the game, it was still in the high 40s.
It’s always great to see the Penn State Blue Band, but seeing them on the road is a nice bonus – especially since they didn’t make the trip to Wisconsin earlier this year.
I like how Maryland enters the field to AC/DC’s Thunderstruck – coming out of their “shell”.
This is the seventh football game we’ve gone to this year and almost every one of them the attendance was underwhelming. The lone exception is the Whiteout. In our 200-level seats today, we had plenty of open seats around us. And from our vantage point, we could see several sections that had plenty of openings. It made it great that you weren’t slammed in like normal conditions in Happy Valley, but I’m still left wondering why are there so many unused seats? COVID? Lack of interest in your team? Too cold? Check out the photo below from the beginning of the fourth quarter and notice the number of empty seats on the opposite side on the left down by the goal line. Crazy.
I don’t know if like or dislike their flag, but I do love how they unfurl it in the student section.
The game was much closer than we had hoped. Sure, you want a competitive game, but at this point in the season, coming off three straight losses, against what Vegas had as a 10.5 underdog, you expect more from your team. Expectations can be funny.
The Lions led 7-6 at the half thanks to 38-yard TD reception by Jahan Dotson and a missed extra point by the Terps. After Maryland opened the second half with a decent drive, Penn State’s defense finally forced a punt. We took over at our own 5 and put together a drive that everyone was waiting for. Fourteen plays, a mix of runs and passes, allowed us to march 95-yards to extend the lead to 14-6 thanks to another 21-yard Dotson TD catch. But Maryland wasn’t going away just yet.
They responded later with a drive and completed the 2-point conversion to tie it up at 14 at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Ugh.
Thankfully, Jahan Dotson was having a night. On the next drive, he split the zone and hauled in an 86-yard TD – his third on the night! He ended up with a school record of 242 yards!
The Terps were wearing down. Their next two drives netted only 15 yards. Penn State added a FG to extend the lead 24-14 before Ji’Ayir Brown intercepted a Taulia Tagovailoa pass and returned it 87-yards for the game-sealing TD. 31-14 Lions!
On our way back to the hotel, we popped up from the Gallery Metro stop to find ourselves at Capital One Arena, where the Washington Capitals were hosting the Philadelphia Flyers. The Pennsylvania teams were on a roll in DC with the Flyers taking down the Caps 2-1.
The Arena is located in Chinatown and has been credited with the revitalization of the area. After seeing empty streets the last two nights, it was great to see the area hopping with activity and the impact sports has on the economy!
Before long, we were back on the train and headed back to Reagan for our flight home. Having wrapped up all of our planned travel for sports for this year, I was reminded of the quote from that famous philosopher, Dr. Suess. “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
Is it too early to start planning for West Lafayette, Auburn, and Ann Arbor next year?
Pop Quiz Answer – Penn State has 42 ties to its credit, all but three of which came before 1959 – including three in 1895 alone.