PENN STATE (Beaver Stadium)
GAME DAYS: September 10, 2011 and November 12, 2011
- OPPONENTS: Alabama, Nebraska
- SCORE: Crimson Tide 27, Nittany Lions 11 Cornhuskers 17, Nittany Lions 14
- CAPACITY/ATTENDANCE: 107,282/107,846 107,903/107,846
- THE TRIP: State College is less than a 4-hour drive from our home in Virginia, and temptation to see Penn State play Alabama (possibly in Joe Paterno's last year, was the thinking at the time) was too great to ignore. So my son Charlie and I drove up to the Alabama game. Later in the fall Penn State was hit by a major scandal and Joe Paterno, among many others, was fired. I took Charlie and my daughter Abby up to the game mostly because Penn State was playing new Big Ten rival Nebraska, but also bought tickets thinking this was DEFINITELY Joe Pa's last game. Turns out he didn't even attend the game.
- IMPRESSIONS: We had a chance to walk the campus, which is beautiful, HUGE and very festive on game day. Maybe the prettiest campus I've ever seen. The stadium is ugly from the outside, beautiful inside. For the Alabama game, getting to our seats in the upper (East) section took a long time - there are bottlenecks on the gangways and section entrances. We entered the stadium half an hour before game time, and made it to our seats just in time for kickoff. Concessions during the game were overwhelmed and ran out of food. None of that really mattered because the game experience was so outstanding. The lower stands creep up right behind the team benches, so the stadium, although huge (second largest in the U.S.), feels intimate. Attendance was over 107,000, and it was LOUD while the game was still competitive. I was surprised to learn that the game was just the third time since 1981 that an SEC school had played in a Big 10 stadium (excluding an extensive Kentucky-Indiana series). Heading into the Nebraska game, which was played the week the scandal broke, and two days after the university fired Joe Paterno, we didn't know what to expect. Aside from private conversations with Penn State alum and local residents, there was very little talk in the stadium about the scandal. But the locals we spoke to privately were vocal: "I can't believe they fired Joe Pa over a phone call." "I'm disgusted that the university is paying for the staff's lawyers." "I hate ESPN. F ESPN." "The riots were much scarier than you saw on TV." Meanwhile happenings during the game directly addressed what had happened that week. For the first time in 46 years, the team took the field without their coach leading the way, walking slowly through the tunnel arm-in-arm. There was a moment of silence for victims of child abuse. The two teams gathered at midfield prior to kickoff and formed a prayer circle. The university played a "Penn State will survive this" video at halftime. I kept waiting for some tribute to Joe Paterno from the fans. A couple of times the student section started a chant of "JOE PA!" but most of the fans, quite deliberately, did not join in.
- WE LOVED: the atmosphere and energy inside the stadium, and the evident pride of Penn State fans who have enjoyed winning football for so long. Penn State held a white out for the Alabama game, so the crowd was a sea of bright white with a few spots of crimson mixed in. Visually stunning. And a great pleasure to watch storied football programs - Penn State, Alabama and Nebraska.
- TRAVEL TIP: visit the Fraser Street Deli, adjacent to campus, and well worth a short walk from the stadium. Their Taliaferro Hero sandwich is featured on ESPN's Fanwich - I ate one myself and can vouch for its awesomeness. Owners Joshua and Cristin Guiher are huge Penn State fans and Joshua, who's a sportswriter, has visited 40+ college stadiums.