Sunday, September 27, 2009

Good teams find a way to win. Iowa was good, we weren’t

I’ll leave it to the sports pundits to figure out what went wrong in last night’s 21-10 loss to Iowa. There seem to be plenty of candidates for bad plays and poor performance on the part of Penn State. Joe Paterno was right – it was a team loss, no one individual was responsible for the performance.

But we should also credit Iowa. Iowa took advantage of opportunities and found a way to win. I was worried about the game, I figured it would be close, but I also figured that the White House atmosphere would give Penn State a slight winning advantage. Wrong. Iowa is simply a better team than Penn State is right now. Even though, theoretically, Penn State might have more talent. But it wasn’t talent that mattered. It was the ability to execute.

Last night was one of those nights when it was very tempting to just stay home. But I have this attendance streak, right? I had even announced it in the Centre Daily Times Penn State Memories column that it would be 99 games in a row. I wrote that article in the summer, and was afraid I might have jinxed myself.

I was feeling “under the weather” (no pun intended) so I bundled up really warmly – several layers of warmth – under my Goretex rain suit. We didn’t really tailgate before the game, we arrived late and sat in the car or under golf umbrellas until it was time to go into the stadium. No parties for us. Go to the game, tough out the weather, and hopefully witness a win.

I did stay dry, and it wasn’t too cold after all. But it was miserably wet, and my camera had to stay out of the relentless rain for most of the game. The one thing I didn’t plan for was my feet – they were soaked. And walking back to our parking spot on the grass was a bit treacherous as well. In a number of areas the grass had turned to mud. I have already had one sprained ankle due to that muddy grass, back in 2006. So we were very careful to avoid even the slightest hill on our route back to the car.

It would have all been worth it had we pulled off a win. We had plenty of time after Iowa scored that touchdown on a blocked punt, and then didn’t make the two-point conversion. The score was only 11-10 in favor of Iowa.

So I turned to Terry and said, “Now we’ll see what this Penn State team can do.” Can they come from behind? Like they did in 2005 at Northwestern? I was thinking of Michael Robinson’s 4th down pass to Derrick Williams to keep a drive alive that turned out to be the key play of the 2005 season.

Even after the score was 18-10, there were still opportunities. Turns out, Penn State couldn’t do much. They faced adversity for the first time this season and failed.

So on to our first road trip at Illinois. How Penn State will bounce back from this loss will tell us what sort of team they will be this season.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

College Football Venues: Our Top Ten List

In today’s “Penn State Memories” column in the Centre Daily Times, I discuss our top ten list of college football venues. Each of our top 10 venues has built a memorable fan experience that commands our respect, even a sense of awe.

As a follow-up to that column, here are the reasons why each is on our list.

#10 Nebraska. Nebraska prides itself in having “college football’s friendliest fans”, and our experience was that Nebraska fans are certainly fun. The stadium, although a bit old, has a great atmosphere. The tailgating environment is one of the best in the nation. We enjoyed superb hospitality at two different tailgates and we were treated very well by the Nebraska fans who hosted us.

#9 Michigan State. Michigan State has one of the prettiest campuses in the Big Ten. It’s worth a walk through campus on the way to the stadium. Spartan Stadium is a very decent place to watch a football game. Penn State fans are given high seats, which we like because it’s better to see the game. Michigan State fans have always been pleasant to us.

#8 Brigham Young. We played Brigham Young only once in Provo, Utah, and it was a miserable loss. But the stadium itself is immaculate – the cleanest stadium we’ve ever seen. It also has the prettiest scenery – snow-covered mountains – surrounding it. The tailgating scene is pretty mellow. No alcohol is allowed, so it’s a very family-oriented environment. Caffeine-free Coke products are offered in the stadium, something that we’ve never seen anywhere else.

#7 Iowa. Kinnick Stadium is always a favorite away game trip. Their recent stadium renovation has made the stadium itself even better. It’s a very spirited atmosphere. We’re lucky to have access to Iowa reserved parking through connections in Iowa City, so we’re always Penn State clad fans among Iowa fans. People are gracious and welcoming. You can walk across the street from the Kinnick Stadium plaza and partake of all sorts of food and beer stands.

#6 Texas. Texas is an amazing experience. First, the entire stadium stands for every play. Second, there’s “Hook ‘Em Horns”. Then there’s Bevo, their incredible mascot. Finally, we were there during Homecoming, and the Texas Alumni Band was 900 strong, all in uniform!

#5 Ohio State. When we first joined the Big Ten, Ohio Stadium was one of our biggest disappointments. The South End zone consisted of semi-permanent open bleachers that were almost dangerous. That’s where opposing team fans sat. You could only access porta-potties; there was no access to rest rooms in the Horseshoe. But a complete renovation of the South End Zone has made visiting Ohio State an awesome experience. A recent campaign by Ohio State to treat opposing team fans well is making a noticeable difference in the fan atmosphere. Plus, there’s TBDBITL – The Best Damn Band In The Land. It’s really true. Their “Script Ohio” routine is the best band routine in college football.

#4 Michigan. When you walk up to The Big House, it’s hard to believe you’re looking at the largest stadium in college football. From the outside, it has a very low profile. It’s a bowl dug into the ground, so you enter the stadium from near the top and walk down to find your seats. It’s easy in, easy out. The plaza surrounding the stadium is pleasant, with a variety of food vendors. Once inside, the atmosphere is electric and tough. Tailgating on the golf course across from the stadium on a sunny fall day is a top-notch experience, and the fans are always pleasant and cordial.

#3 Wisconsin. Beer. Brats. Cheese curds. Frat parties across the street from the stadium. That’s what you find around Camp Randall Stadium. What you won’t find is parking. You can pay someone in the neighborhood to park in their yard, or you can park at a distant lot on Lake Mendota and take an efficient shuttle bus to the game. No matter. Wisconsin fans are a great deal of fun, and the 5th quarter – where the band plays, win or lose – is a great tradition in college football. So is their song “Varsity” where the entire stadium links arms to sing. It’s a tough environment in the stadium, but we’ve always had very decent seats. Win or lose, Wisconsin fans have treated us with respect.

#2 Alabama. We played Alabama at Tuscaloosa at a homecoming game. Shut them out for the first time in 50 years on three Craig Fayak field goals. The stands were going nuts throughout the game. Everyone was waving pompoms. It’s an incredible atmosphere. But what impressed us the most was the fact that the fans came up to us after such a tough loss for them, congratulated us on winning, and expressed sincere regret that the Penn State-Alabama series was ending. Bama fans have a true affection for Penn State. We’re glad to see them back on our schedule!

#1 Penn State. Beaver Stadium is one of the best designed stadiums around. A walk around the mezzanine pre-game has an incredible view of the surrounding tailgating scene. There isn’t a bad seat in the house, and the atmosphere for a big game is beyond comparison. A lot of stadiums don’t have the luxury of land surrounding the stadium for parking and tailgating. Beaver Stadium is the best tailgating atmosphere we’ve seen – anywhere.

Some might ask why Notre Dame isn’t on our list. We struggled between Nebraska and Notre Dame for #10. Both have stadiums that could use renovations. Notre Dame has amazing football traditions and a rich tailgating environment, but we’ve often been disappointed with the seats we’ve had at their stadium. Some of which were so bad it was hard to see the game. The edge for #10 went to Nebraska, primarily because we had a great experience with their fans. Notre Dame would be #11 on our list.

For those of you who have been to some of these venues, I would welcome your thoughts and reactions. What has your experience been at away games?

Fans Make It the Greatest Show...

This article appeared today in the Centre Daily Times PSU Memories column. To access the article, copy and paste the following url into your browser:

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Can’t Let Iowa Hang Around

We hold a great deal of respect, even affection, for Iowa and its football program. They are a Big Ten team that we always cheer on, except, of course, when they play us. They have an outstanding football tradition. The atmosphere at Kinnick Stadium is electric. It’s a fun venue to watch a game. Usually.

Iowa was the first Big Ten program to enthusiastically welcome Penn State to the Big Ten, and when we showed up at that first game in Iowa City in 1993, we were also personally welcomed by the Cahoon family of Iowa City. The connection with the Cahoons is through our friend Greg Schraeder, a die-hard Penn State fan, who married Debbie Cahoon in the early 1990’s. Greg and I had met each other on an early Penn State Internet discussion board before that first Iowa game, and he invited us to meet them at their tailgate. That started a friendship that endures to this day. Greg and Debbie live in Omaha, Nebraska, and we always rendezvous with them at the Iowa game whenever we play in Iowa City, and elsewhere throughout the Midwest when Penn State travels.

Such was the case last year. We met the Scraeders at the Cahoon family house, and went with Greg and his son Tyler to the stadium, where we used an Iowa reserved parking pass to park in the shadow of the stadium. There we were, Penn State clad fans in a sea of Iowa tailgates. Words can’t describe how cold it was. The wind was causing tailgate tents to collapse or blow away; flag poles had to be taken down because there was too much potential for damage. We spent most of the pre-game tailgate huddled in the van. It was simply too cold to be outside.

Our Penn State tickets were in the 2nd row behind the Penn State bench. Greg had two Iowa tickets that were at the top of the stadium – 60th row or so, great seats for viewing the game. 13-year-old Tyler wanted to sit right behind the bench, to be close to the players and watch the action on the sidelines, so I volunteered to go with him. Greg and Terry went to the high seats. They sat in that cold wind the entire game. At least in the 2nd row, the wind was blocked partially by the stadium. But still, conditions weren’t great. It was damn cold. And I just don’t like low seats – you can’t really see the game.

I wonder, looking back, how much that cold affected our players. They were wrapped in down cloaks on the sidelines, obviously shivering. They couldn’t get warm. Joe Paterno is not one to coddle his players with heaters on the sidelines. He has long been of the belief that weather is part of the game, something to contend with. So the Iowa players had heaters. The Penn State players didn’t.

Whether or not heaters would have made a difference, I don’t know. What did make a difference was Iowa’s determination to win, and their half-time adjustments. They just didn’t quit. The Hawkeye defense kept Penn State to just 86 yards in the second half, with no third down conversions. The Hawkeyes achieved 7 of 8 third-down conversions in the second half. Iowa stepped up. Penn State, which had a 23-14 advantage early in the 4th quarter, saw a win slip away. A penalty that allowed their game-winning drive to continue didn’t help. Nor did a Darryl Clark interception in the 4th quarter. One wonders if Pat Devlin could have achieved a different result. Darryl Clark did not seem 100%.

When the game ended, my friend Tyler was in tears. He had to go back to Cornhusker country, where he knew he would face relentless teasing by his Husker classmates. As for me, I was just trying to dodge the rush of fans storming the field. It was simply a miserable loss.

After the game, we gathered with the Cahoon family at an Iowa City restaurant. They were kind. They didn’t rub it in. They knew how much this loss hurt, even though I’m sure they were secretly pleased. That’s why I like Iowa and always wish them well. They have classy fans!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Playing the Iowa Hawkeyes Is Always A Challenge – Even Getting There!

Iowa is always a challenge for Penn State. Even getting there, if it’s an away game. We drove from State College to Iowa once. From State College, it’s a grueling 17-hours one-way on Route 80. You can’t do that for a 3-day football weekend. So flying is the only choice.

Last year, Penn State’s problems with Iowa started at University Park Airport. We had arrived about 5 a.m. to University Park Airport for a 6 a.m. Northwest flight to Detroit. About half the plane was reserved for official representatives of Penn State who were also headed for the Iowa game: the cheerleaders, the pep band, the Nittany Lion, and numerous staff members of the Penn State Alumni Association.

Our plane had a mechanical problem, discovered the night before. The exit door, which also functions as a stairway off the plane, had some sort of failure when the door was opened, and it hit the ground hard. So as a safety precaution, a mechanic had to be called in to inspect the door. Evidently mechanics in State College aren’t on 24-hour call. He showed up at his usual start time, at 8 a.m. or so. So we didn’t leave University Park Airport until about 8:30 a.m.

Terry and I weren’t happy about the delay but our flights were okay. We actually had a 3-hour layover in Detroit to catch our booked flight to Quad Cities, about 70 minutes from Iowa City. We arrived at our hotel in Davenport, Iowa when expected, and would drive to Iowa City the next day for the game.

But the Penn State Alumni Association had a commitment to be at an alumni function Friday night with the band and cheerleaders, and it was clear that they would all miss their connection to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. There just weren’t many alternative flights into Cedar Rapids, nor were there that many seats. Roger Williams, Executive Director of the Penn State Alumni Association, was trying anything he could to delay the flight out of Detroit for Cedar Rapids, but the delay was too long. Nor were there enough seats on later flights into Cedar Rapids.

So Northwest changed all the official Penn State folks to a flight to Minneapolis, and then they rented a bus – another six hours or so - from Minneapolis to Iowa City to get to their event. They made it, but it was a very rough travel day.

The travel problems for Penn State served as a foreboding for the game itself. Nothing was going to go as planned.

The plan was to win. We were playing a team that had an overall record of 5-4. Iowa had lost to Pittsburgh, Northwestern, Michigan State, and Illinois. We were undefeated, looking towards a national championship, and had a weekend off after upsetting Ohio State at Ohio Stadium, an incredible victory! We were ranked #3 in the country. We had a quarterback, Darryl Clark, who was injured at Ohio State, but who had nearly two weeks to recover from his concussion. And we had a backup quarterback, Pat Devlin, who led the team to victory after that injury happened.

Iowa played us tough at Kinnick Stadium. But we were winning well into the 4th quarter. Then, things started falling apart.

Unlike the Penn State Alumni Association, the Penn State football team couldn’t make the necessary adjustments late in the game to achieve their goal.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Congratulations to Todd Thurman, 250 Games of "Rocky Top" Football

This week, I heard from an avid Tennessee football fan. He just wanted to introduce himself via email. Somehow he discovered my blog. His name is Todd Thurman, and he told me that he hasn’t missed a Tennessee college football game – away or home – since 1989. In his email, he stated that “I am glad there are fans elsewhere that love to follow their team as much as I do.”

We had a few email exchanges, because I wanted to learn more. Not only is this a remarkable attendance streak, it’s somewhat unusual. Todd Thurman is only 38 years old! He’s been going to home games since he was 7 and home and away games since he was 9. He elaborates, “I have missed only 2 games since November 1985 (Boston College in Boston 1987 and UCLA in LA in 1989). My dad had always been a big fan and had gone since he was a teenager, but it wasn't until 1978 that we finally got season tickets. My great-grandfather was a fan and probably started our ‘hobby’. He would occasionally take my dad to Knoxville to see a game, but my favorite story is of he and my great-grandmother taking a train to Miami to see Tennessee beat Oklahoma 17-0 in the 1939 Orange Bowl.” Wow. What a legacy! Rocky-Top is certainly in his lineage!

The attendance streak was a father-son "hobby". He went to all those games with his dad. How special! And how bittersweet yesterday’s 250th game must have been. His dad died in June, and this is Todd’s first football season without him. I hope he's focused on cherishing all those memories to help ease such a profound loss.

I just wish he had also seen a win at Florida yesterday! But Tennessee gave Florida a tough game, so he must be proud of the way they performed.

According to Todd, “I always tell everyone that I feel very fortunate and blessed to be able to go to all of the games. I have a wonderful wife (I was well into my streak when we got married in 2003, so she knew what she was getting into) and I have two great daughters. I'm hoping to pass along my hobby to one of them.”

Wow again. Todd is young enough he could make it to 500 games in a row, or even more! He’s young enough to even surpass Giles Pellerin, the USC fan who attended 797 straight USC games in a row. Pellerin died at halftime of the USC-UCLA game in 1998, at the age of 92. He was lauded at college football stadiums everywhere whenever USC visited. Including Beaver Stadium in the early 1990’s. Terry and I remember being very humbled by his dedication.

But of course, you have to be very lucky - also very healthy - to avoid the many life events that can interfere with such records.

In fact, Todd and I talked about being superstitious on even predicting attendance streaks. Anything can happen to break one. That’s why, when I planned a surprise celebration for Terry’s 200th, it was actually his 203rd. I wanted to make sure he actually achieved it first. That’s why I didn’t mention Todd Thurman earlier this week. I didn’t want to jinx his 250th game by announcing it prematurely.

At Penn State, Mike and Sylvia Hudacek, from Plymouth, PA., achieved perhaps the longest Penn State attendance record. Penn State President Dr. Graham Spanier introduced Sylvia Hudacek at an away game pep rally several years ago. Even after Mike was unable to attend most away games, Sylvia kept going. We talked to her at that game. She told us she never kept records of how many games, but at the time, we figured it must have been around 280 games or more in a row - both home and away. Unfortunately, the Hudaceks' long streak is no longer active. But their dedication to Penn State football will always stand as a remarkable achievement.

Then there’s my colleague Fred Hurvitz, also a Marketing Instructor at Smeal College of Business. He hasn’t missed a Penn State home football game since 1959! In fact, the last game he missed was the 1959 Syracuse game at old Beaver Field. He has not missed a single game at Beaver Stadium (present site) which began operating in 1960. He doesn’t often go to away games, but still, a home-game streak that lasts 50 years is an outstanding achievement. Congratulations, Fred!

John Black, writer of the Penn State football newsletter for the Penn State Alumni Association, hasn't missed a Penn State football game anywhere since the mid-1970's. Even though it's his job (and his travel is reimbursed by Penn State) it's remarkable that there hasn't been a miss in all those years.

Who else is out there that you know of who has a story to tell about their attendance – following Penn State or another team? Perhaps even a different sport? It would be fun to collect stories. How you got involved, how you manage it. What your experience has been. The sacrifices you have made. This could be a fun way to celebrate all those records that everyone keeps! And, of course, the incredible passion behind your dedication.

If you know someone who has a story to tell, please forward this blog, or email me at

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A More Balanced Offense; A Much-Improved Temple Team

It was a picture-perfect day at Beaver Stadium. There was a deep blue sky and a pleasant 60-ish temperature. The kind of day where you just want to hang around outside and enjoy the last hint of summer before the fall brisk air takes over. Which is exactly what we did. We weren’t in a hurry to get home after the game.

It was just too wonderful enjoying the tailgating after the game with our guests and new friends, Tara and George. Tara and I had collaborated on an intense class project this past year, and – to make a long story short – I discovered that she just doesn’t follow Penn State football, even though she has lived near State College for the last fifteen years. She had been to only one other game, when she first moved here. Those were pretty good if not awesome teams in the mid-1990’s, but the Penn State football experience for whatever reason didn’t make an impression.

For someone like me who moved to State College specifically because of Penn State football, that’s a bit of a disconnection for me. But I also understand. Not everyone is a football fan, even in this football-crazed town. And there was a time, not that many years ago, that I wasn’t a football fan.

In any case, I thought it would be fun to invite her and her husband to a game, so they could experience it from our perspective –wonderful easy-access tailgate spot, decent seats, loyal regulars surrounding us.

We had a wonderful time with a pre-game and post-game tailgate, as well as the game itself, and the weather certainly was a factor in it being a very enjoyable day.

I was worried about it raining or something. I’ve always said that the first thing that you have to do to convert a non-football fan to a football fan is to bring that person to a game with good weather. The next thing you have to do is to make it a good customer experience. Both of those things happened today. The final thing that has to happen is to win, because that puts everyone around you in a good mood. That happened too. My guess is that Tara and George will be back. We will certainly invite them again. Our one criterion for a repeat invitation is that we win. That means they bring luck. (I’m not serious, but you all know what I mean.)

The crowd was a little slow getting to Beaver Stadium; perhaps they too were enjoying their tailgates too much. The student section never did fill up. The same could also be said for the rest of the stadium. It wasn’t packed. It was a bit more comfortable than usual sitting in the stands; there were empty seats here and there.

The official crowd number was 105,000. We were betting that it was less than 100,000. We’ve never quite understood how they do that count anyhow!

The game itself was a solid 31-6 win. We had a much more balanced offense: 173 yards passing; 186 yards rushing. We were able to get a decent running game going against Temple’s defense; it appears that the young offensive line is beginning to get it together to create some opportunities for different plays.

Evan Royster, our tailback, put on a very good performance, running for 135 yards and one touchdown. Daryll Clark was 16 of 26 with 2 touchdowns and one interception. He mixed up his passing – 8 different receivers caught his passes. On defense, Josh Hull and Sean Lee were outstanding, 13 and 12 tackles respectively. Our new kicker, Collin Wagner, who was somewhat shaky against Akron and didn’t attempt a field goal against Syracuse, made the one 27-yard field goal with no problem. That was a bit reassuring.

There were a few disturbing things. First, Darryl Clark’s interception – it was a very poor throw that appeared to be simply bad judgment, not consistent with his usual precision. His prior interceptions weren't really his fault. Second, Temple’s surprise onside kick early in the game – Penn State fell asleep on kick coverage and Temple recovered. Kudos to Temple for being bold enough to try it! Fortunately for us, Temple could not capitalize on that opportunity. We also had some stupid, unnecessary penalties that caused some long gains to be negated.

On the other hand, Penn State is reporting that a number of players weren’t playing at 100% percent due to colds or mild flu symptoms. Including Evan Royster, who played pretty well for someone who wasn’t feeling up to par!

Temple deserves a lot of credit. They were able to make some big plays against our defense and get into position to score two field goals. They were more competitive than we’ve seen them in the past few years. They were disciplined. They just don’t have the depth of talent-yet-to compete with Penn State for four quarters. My guess is that they will continue to improve under Al Golden’s coaching. We hope they have great success in the MAC!

So…on to the start of Big Ten play. Iowa comes to Beaver Stadium next week. They’re beginning to look more formidable to me. Why? They found a way to win 17-16 in their first game against Northern Iowa by blocking two consecutive field goals. They rolled over Iowa State, 35-6, their in-state rival, and a Big-12 conference team. Today they had a solid 27-17 win against Arizona, a Pac-10 conference team. They’ve passed an adversity test we haven’t faced, and they have succeeded against stronger opponents. Plus, they beat us last year and have beaten us before at Beaver Stadium. They should be confident coming into this game.

Are we ready for them? I’m really not sure until we play the game. More on Iowa later this week…

Friday, September 18, 2009

Favorite Jerseys? There Are So Many!

We're having a hard time with this favorite jersey thing. Plus, our memory has lapsed on exact numbers that players wore. Guess that's what happens when you age. So let's talk about players instead of numbers.

Terry's favorite players would include Curt Warner, D.J. Dozier, John Capelletti, Shane Conlan, Courtney Brown, Todd Blackledge, Kerry Collins, Blair Thomas, Ki-Jana Carter, Larry Johnson, Michael Robinson, Lavar Arrington, Paul Posluzny, Kevin Kelly, and many others that he can't remember at the moment.

Carolyn wasn't involved in Penn State football until 1987. But she would list Kerry Collins, Blair Thomas, Ki-Jana Carter, Courtney Brown, Larry Johnson, Michael Robinson, Lavar Arrington, Paul Posluzny, as well. And also Craig Fayak, Anthony King, David Macklin, Maurice Daniels, Justin King, A.Q. Shipley.

We both agree that Darryl Clark, Sean Lee, and Jared Odrick are on our list for this year's team. Some others might emerge during the season.

Perhaps we should choose Adam Talliaferro. We were at Ohio State when he was injured, attended the prayer meeting at Old Main that week, and celebrated when he ran out on the field after a long and hard recovery. He represents all that is good about Penn State football.

So favorite number? Sorry, there are too many to pick one!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Looking Towards the Temple Game...

Temple University. In the heart of Philadelphia. Penn State's only consistent in-state rival, since we joined the Big Ten. Why do we continue to play Temple?

A truly competitive game isn't the point here. The last time that Temple came close to beating Penn State was in 1985. Oddly enough, that was a year when Penn State contended for the national championship, but we beat Temple by only 2 points. You have to go back to the 1975-1976 seasons to find a Temple team that was truly competitive with Penn State - two years in a row when PSU won by just one point in each of these games. And in the 38 times Penn State has played Temple, Penn State has won 34 times, Temple has won 3 times, and there was one tie. You have to go back to 1941 to find a win by Temple against Penn State, and the tie was in 1950.

I wasn't heavily involved with Penn State football before 1987, so all I know about Penn State-Temple games is that they have been a "guaranteed win" since I've witnessed these games.

That doesn't mean that Temple won't be competitive this year. Past history can take you only so far when predicting the future. That's why you play the game. But it would be a very historic upset if Temple wins the game on Saturday!

I would propose three reasons why we continue to play Temple: 1. Deep Penn State connections; 2. The Philadelphia market; and 3. The home game schedule.

The Penn State connections run deep, and it's hard to wish Temple ill, to feel any animosity toward them. They're a wonderfully competitive basketball school, but a somewhat sorry football program, at least in recent history. I'm sure, in fact, that Joe Paterno wants to help them be more successful. For one thing, their head coach is Al Golden, a former player and a two-year starter at tight end for Penn State, a Penn State graduate, and a team co-captain of the 1991 team. Al Golden also coached for the Nittany Lions in 2000. He was named Temple's head coach in 2006 after 4 years of coaching at the University of Virginia. In addition, Mark D'Onofrio serves as assistant head coach/defensive coordinator. He played linebacker for Penn State from 1988-91. Finally, there's State College native Mark Rhule, a linebacker for Penn State who graduated in 1997 as an Academic All-American. He is the offensive coordinator/linebackers coach.

There is a win-win situation here for both teams for continuing this in-state rivalry. Penn State is very likely to win the game, and that's good for our overall record in a season. But Temple has something to gain as well. Temple gains valuable experience for its players, playing against a very tough opponent that will help them compete against Mid American Conference (MAC) teams. Last year, with a 5-7 record, Temple was able to achieve its most wins in 18 years. They placed second in the MAC's East Division last year. Three of the games they lost last year were lost in the final play. They are improving under the direction of Al Golden, but it's an improvement that will play itself out more in the MAC than against Penn State (at least I hope). We always root for Temple to win when we're not playing them.

Another reason that Penn State plays Temple is the Philadelphia marketplace. Every once in a while we play an away game against Temple. The last one was in 2007 at Lincoln Financial Field. This is good for Penn State football recruiting purposes, and it's very good for the large Penn State alumni base located in the greater Philadelphia area. In fact, tickets for the Penn State-Temple game in 2007 were hard to find at face value, if you didn't have proper connections through Penn State to order their allotment of away game tickets. In 2007, scalping over the Internet in Pennsylvania was legal. The tickets were going for at least double face value because the internet sites had scooped up all the extra tickets available. I was amazed at the time. Penn State-Temple? They were all sold out, thanks to our "wonderful" new system of scalping. The game itself was like a Penn State home game, just relocated to Philadelphia. The Alumni Association pre-game tailgate was crowded with Penn State fans. In comparison, Temple football fans were hard to find at the game - few and far between.

Finally, there's the home game schedule. Since Penn State joined the Big Ten Conference, we have played Temple eight times. We played them at Giants Stadium in New Jersey once, at Franklin Field once, and at Lincoln Financial Field, their new home field, once. This year will be the sixth game played at Beaver Stadium, making the location 6-3 in favor of Beaver Stadium since 1993. Temple seems to be more negotiable on location than our other in-state rival, Pittsburgh, which is decidedly a more fierce rivalry. And of course, Penn State wins on revenues if it can host more home games here than the opposing team insists on playing there.

So we will welcome Temple again to Beaver Stadium. If recent history against this team predicts the future, it will be a lopsided score in favor of Penn State. Hopefully we will see some needed improvements that we know the team and the coaches are working on diligently this week. Hopefully the team will be focused on winning this game, and not looking ahead to the Big Ten opener against Iowa. Hopefully it will be a game where Penn State players who need more experience to contend in the Big Ten will have plenty of game time to gain it!

I'm betting on no surprises here and hope to just have fun at the game watching an offensive and defensive show!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

“I Cheer for All Big Ten Teams Except…”

If you’re an Ohio State Buckeye, a Michigan State Spartan, or a Purdue Boilermaker, you’re licking your wounds after tough losses. If you’re a Michigan Wolverine, a Wisconsin Badger, a Northwestern Wildcat, a Minnesota Gopher, or an Indiana Hoosier, you’re breathing a sigh of relief that you escaped with victories in tight games.

If you’re an Iowa Hawkeye, an Illinois Illini, or a Penn State Nittany Lion, you’re feeling pretty good about lopsided wins. Especially after that amazing win the Hawkeyes had last week where they blocked two consecutive field goals, Hawkeye fans must be feeling great about beating their in-state rival, Iowa State. The Illini beat up in-state rival Illinois State 45-17, even after Juice Williams was injured early in the game.

After yesterday’s Penn State game, at a neighboring tailgate with a satellite TV, we had the opportunity to cheer on Wisconsin as they won against Fresno State in second overtime. What a finish! We could say the same thing about the Michigan win against Notre Dame – we were home in time to watch the second half.

In fact, a friend of mine posted a picture on my Facebook wall from the stands at Michigan just before the end of the game. At least, I assume he was at the game since I know he has season tickets and he uploaded the photo from a mobile device. In any case, he was celebrating Michigan’s final drive to win the game.

So I commented on his photo, “9 seconds left…YES!!! Want you guys undefeated when we play you in Ann Arbor.”

Well evidently that didn’t sit well with one of his Michigan friends, because he sent me an apology via email about a post that he removed from his wall. He also told me with a grin that I could post scores on his wall at any time. We respect each other, and he knew what I meant. He also probably wants to see Penn State come into Ann Arbor undefeated. And he likes Penn State. Except when Michigan and Northwestern play us.

Here’s where I made a mistake. I replied via email, telling him that I never saw the insulting post. At the time Ohio State was up 10-7 against USC. So my reply included “Now OSU is beating USC 10-7. Go Ohio State! Sorry, but they’re Big Ten too!”

His response? “I cheer for all Big 10 teams except Ohio State…If the Trojans whip them 100-0, it’s not enough!!!”

Too late now, I recall that this friend, who has an undergraduate degree from Michigan and a graduate degree from Northwestern, had a particularly bad experience at Ohio Stadium several years ago that adds fuel to the traditional Ohio State-Michigan firestorm of intense rivalry. So now I owe him an apology. I shouldn’t have even mentioned Ohio State. I should have known better. In any case, my Michigan friend must be happy this morning about Ohio State losing to USC last night.

As for me, I’m not happy at all. Especially since the game was at Columbus, and Ohio State played well. You have to credit USC and the brilliance of Pete Carroll, as well as the poise under pressure of their true freshman quarterback, 19-year-old Matt Barkley. That final “drive” was an amazing feat against Ohio State’s defense. They had contained USC most of the game. This was a tough loss for Ohio State fans.

We always root for the Big Ten when they play non-conference opponents, especially an opponent as highly ranked as USC, who hasn’t lost to a Big Ten team under the Pete Carroll era. In fact, the TV trivia question last night was “When was the last time USC lost to a Big Ten team?” The answer? It was in 1996, when Penn State played USC at the Meadowlands in the Kickoff Classic. John Robinson was the coach.

So now the media will again question the strength of the Big Ten conference, and that doesn’t help Penn State in its national rankings one bit. It’s already begun!

Also when it comes to Ohio State-USC, it’s a matter of which team we like the best. We root for Ohio State because they’re Big Ten. We want to play the highest ranked opponents we can at any game. Just as we want to play an undefeated Michigan in Ann Arbor, we also hoped to play an undefeated Ohio State team at Beaver Stadium.

Also, Terry grew up in Ohio as an Ohio State fan, and so he doesn’t feel animosity towards them, unless an OSU win somehow affects Penn State standings. His passion for Penn State began in 1970 when he moved to Pennsylvania, and takes priority. But that old history is hard for him to totally dismiss, and it’s hard for me to ignore.

We also see no reason to wish USC any success, especially after our humiliating loss to them in the Rose Bowl last year. We would just as soon see them get out of national championship contention as soon as possible, and that didn’t happen last night.

But we have a lot of Big Ten games to play before November! In addition to Michigan, Iowa is still undefeated, so are Minnesota, Northwestern, and Indiana. Illinois, Ohio State, and Michigan State are still huge threats in conference play. And we really don’t know how good we are yet.

One game at a time, so they say! We have to beat Temple this week. And I need to stop speculating about the future and restrain from looking ahead.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Win Is A Win. But Have We Improved?

It's good to see Penn State win handily against Syracuse, but Terry was very unhappy with how we won. "We're lousy!", he kept yelling to me in the stands. Even when we were up by 28 points.

What bothered Terry more than anything else was the fact that we couldn't score a touchdown from the one-yard line. He would have preferred that we take a field goal on that drive as well. "When you have the chance, take the points!," he yelled.

I think we expected improvement over last week's game. And improvement, especially in the running game, was hard to discern. We were limited to 78 yards rushing, and achieved 240 yards passing. We were ahead by only 14 points at the half. We weren't comfortable with a win until well into the 4th quarter.

On the other hand, we sort of expected a tougher game. So a 28-7 win isn't bad. Our defense basically shut down Syracuse, and created a couple of turnovers. They put the needed pressure on Greg Paulus, Syracuse's quarterback, and Ryan Nassib, his backup. The defense held the Syracuse offense to 200 yards total, and only 13 first downs. Syracuse achieved only 65 yards rushing.

So...what's the problem? A win's a win, right? I'm not sure I'm as dissatisfied as Terry is. I see the game as more of a defensive battle in that we controlled Syracuse effectively. But I'm concerned about the ground game and the inconsistent offensive line, despite the fact that we scored four touchdowns.

What do you think?

P.S. Two Syracuse fans in front of us disguised themselves in Penn State gear. Evidently they were afraid to show up in orange for fear of being harassed. But they showed their true colors on one of Paulus's completions. We had a good time teasing them after that, in a good-natured way. They really didn't have anything to worry about, at least in our section of the stands!

The "Classic Day" was fun for those who participated, and the music was great. Most fans seemed "unconscious and unaware" that such a theme day was declared until they arrived at the stadium. The weather forecast didn't help the theme day, although fortunately there was no real rain - just a bit of drizzle - during the game.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Fashion Advisory: 60’s Themed Dress for Tomorrow’s Game!

Penn State has declared the theme for tomorrow’s game against Syracuse “Classic Day” and is encouraging everyone in the stands to wear their 1960’s clothes to the game. Well, that sounds like fun, but I have to ask, “What 1960’s clothes?” After all, the 1960’s ended 39 years ago.

If you are even old enough to have lived in the 1960's you would have to have quite a closet to hoard clothes that are that old. The oldest piece of clothing I have in my closet is a 1986 Boston Red Sox T-shirt commemorating their American League Championship and an ill-fated World Series run against the New York Mets. Although there may be some older T-shirts tucked away in my basement from my social activist days in the 1970's.

But of course, that’s the point. From a marketing perspective, theme days are a great way to spur people to buy more Penn State licensed clothes. If you’re not a hoarder and can’t figure out what to wear, you can go to any retailer locally and buy a new, tie-dyed, officially licensed Penn State T-shirt to fit in with the 1960’s theme. And while you’re preparing for Classic Day, you may as well buy your Penn State licensed “favorite jersey” because next week’s game against Temple has been declared “Favorite Jersey” day.

But what if you’ve already got more Penn State clothes in your closet than you can possibly wear in a season, or you are just being a little more careful with your money this year and are focusing on needs, rather than wants, in this rough economy?

There are probably plenty of clothes in your closet that will fit the bill for “Classic Day”. For “Favorite Jersey” day, a simple white T-shirt and a black Sharpie pen to write your favorite number on it will do the trick.

The 1960’s focus seems to be on tie-dye shirts, at least among my students. The Woodstock phenomenon seems to come to mind when people think of the 1960’s, but Woodstock occurred in August of 1969, at the very end of the decade. As for myself, I was a teenager in the 1960’s and subject to high school dress codes and my mother’s stern approval of what I wore. I entered college in the fall of 1969. Tie-dye shirts for me came in the 1970’s.

I also overheard a fan at last week’s game say, “In the 1960’s we dressed up for games.” That got me curious - what were we really wearing in the 1960’s?

I asked some of my old friends on Facebook this week and looked at some 1960’s fashion shows on Youtube.

Twiggy was the famous model in those days, and she was extremely thin, some would call her anorexic, wearing the London-based “mod” look: white geometric design shifts. Jacqueline Kennedy of course had a strong influence. As did actresses like Audrey Hepburn. There were tent dresses, a-line skirts, very brightly colored and boldly printed dresses, and – how could we forget – vinyl dresses!

I remember paisley dresses and lots of plaid. Crochet vests that I made myself. Sleeveless shifts. Bell-bottom jeans. My Facebook friends remembered paisley tights that you wore with skirts or jumpers. Sweater sets and pleated skirts. Granny dresses. “Poor boy” striped shirts. Corduroy jumpers with turtlenecks. Stretch pants with stirrups matched with big shirts. Empire waist dresses and shirts. Mini-skirts with white “go-go” boots. My mother wouldn’t let me wear those!

As for hair? In the early to mid-1960’s we all followed Jackie Kennedy. Bouffant style teased hair. We rolled our hair in orange juice cans and slept on them to create that effect. Then we all had "flips" and bangs. Later in the 1960’s we flattened our long hair with irons. In junior high and high school heavy eye makeup was in.

For men, the “mod” look was white tailored shirts with thin ties. There was heavy influence by Italian designers, so the cut on suits was tight. But as the “psychedelic” era evolved there was also emulation of some female fashion trends: paisley shirts, bold print shirts, as well as cowboy shirts, bell-bottoms. The hippie era of course spawned t-shirts, jeans, and of course tie-dyes.

So for Classic Day, you can either adopt the “hippie/psychedelic” look or be, well, classic, even a little dressed up. I have a navy blue Penn State cardigan sweater set that easily could be from the 1960’s. I’ll add a 3-stranded pearl necklace that I inherited from my Mom, straight from the Jackie Kennedy era. And perhaps just to acknowledge the hippie era, I’ll wear my boot cut jeans, the closest thing I have to bell-bottoms.

I’ll save my spending on new Penn State clothes for the bowl trip!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Orangemen Return to Beaver Stadium

For the first time since 1990, the Syracuse Orangemen will play our Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium. After last weekend’s close game against Minnesota, where they lost in overtime, I’m curious as to how this team will perform against Penn State.

A team that I viewed as sort of “ho-hum” after last year’s blow-out win has turned into a team that might be quite exciting to watch. I do hope it’s not too exciting!

I’m also curious about their new Duke point guard-turned-Syracuse quarterback. Greg Paulus, as a high school quarterback for Christian Brothers Academy in Dewitt, New York, a suburb of Syracuse, led his team to a 13-0 state title, and a #13 national ranking by USA Today. He was also named the 2004 Gatorade national player of the year in football. Last week was his first college snap. After a brief time in pre-season he beat out two Syracuse contenders for the position who had more experience at the college level. In his first game he completed 19 of 31 passes for 167 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.

My guess – and it’s only a guess - is that Paulus’s past experience gave him an intangible edge– he has learned what it is like to win, both in high school and at Duke. Sometimes a team needs a leader that knows how to win, who has experienced what that feels like. In addition, at Duke, he was coached by one of the best coaches in sports, Mike Krzyzewski. You can’t be a 3-year starter for Duke without being a competitor and you can’t be a successful point guard without being a leader.

That’s what Doug Marrone, the new head coach, needs if he wants to turn Syracuse around. Leadership, and perhaps someone who is completely open to a new way of doing things.

Speaking of Doug Marrone, he has coached exactly one game in college football – last week against Minnesota. But he was offensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints, and a starting offensive lineman for Syracuse from 1983-1985. He knows football. Despite a young team, Syracuse almost won last week against a Big Ten team.

A couple of people have told me, “But Penn State’s defense is much better than Minnesota’s.” They’re not worried, they think Penn State has more weapons than Minnesota. I agree. We have proven leadership on our team and we have experienced success, intangibles that make it hard to fail, especially in front of a home crowd.

But I worry about the hunger of Syracuse. A team that is hungry – and angry about a close loss the week before - is a tough team to play, regardless of their talent. My guess is that they will leave it all on the field on Saturday. They have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

It is said that the most improvement in a team occurs between the first and second games of the season. Penn State has the most talent and experience, both in coaching and on the team, but which team will improve the most?

I guess that’s why we play the game!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

PSU vs. Akron: A Good Start, But Not Great

Yesterday's game was as expected:  a solid win against an opponent that doesn't have the horsepower to compete with a team of Penn State's caliber.  Quarterback Darryl Clark and his wide receivers put on a passing clinic.  We were especially impressed with his connections with No. 6 Derek Moye, who caught 6 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown.

It was a good thing that the passing game went well. Akron basically forced Penn State to pass.  They stopped our running game in its tracks, and that's a huge concern.

Of our 515 yards in offense, 379 yards were through the air.  We achieved only 136 yards in rushing, and 37 of those were by a member of the punting team, Andrew Dailey, on a fake punt.

That play, by the way, woke up a sleepy crowd in our section of the stands.  We all turned to each other and said, "Hey, what the heck was that?"  Nice play and a complete surprise.  But resorting to tricks because you can't establish a run might work against Akron.  It won't work so well in the Big Ten.

There were times, too, when we thought that Darryl Clark's passes were dangerously close to being intercepted.  We thought he took some chances that fortunately worked out, as we breathed some sighs of relief.

We were impressed with Penn State's defensive performance.  Akron had a very experienced offense, and it was basically shut down for most of the game.    It was good to see Sean Lee back in action.  We were wondering what happened to Navorro Bowman -there was some confusion in the stands at first due to his change in number from #18 to #11 but then we didn't see #11 on the field after the first few plays.  Sorry to hear that he has a right groin injury.  But Nathan Stupar stepped up and had a great day.

Okay, we had a great first half.  But we didn't score in the second half at all.  Akron must have made some defensive adjustments.  Or our team fell asleep.  Or both.

The Penn State team has to learn to play 60 minutes, not 30. That was another dangerous sign.  It might be easy to hold a lead against Akron, but a 31-0 half-time lead can be quickly wiped out in a second half.  We've all seen it happen.  What seems like a "laugher" turns into a tight game at the end.

It was good to see Kevin Newsome take his first snaps and create some excitement. He put Penn State in the position to attempt another score at the end of the game, but they ran out the clock instead.

People in the stands had mixed feelings about this.  Some felt the score wasn't high enough to maintain our poll standings.  Others felt that running up the score isn't our style, so to heck with the polls.  I'm with the latter group.  The game was won and the score was never close.    I'll worry about the polls after October 3rd.

As for the crowd, the student section was full about 18 minutes into the game.  Probably due to a relentless sun in their faces, it was pretty empty by the beginning of the 4th quarter.  In fact the entire stadium appeared to make an early exit.  It took us about 15 minutes to get home after the game.  No traffic at all.

What are your thoughts about yesterday's game?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Buy Ice, Pack the Cooler, "Dress" the Car, Check for Tickets, Get to the Game!

The tailgating scene at Beaver Stadium is the best in the country.  At least, we've never seen anything quite like it anywhere else, and we've been to a lot of different stadiums.  Why?  We have the advantage of lots of agricultural land and parking lots surrounding Beaver Stadium to accommodate the crowds who pour into University Park on any given football Saturday.  A lot of stadiums just don't have the luxury of space.

The scene is one massive party, with some very elaborate preparations by many tailgaters:  charcoal grills, satellite dishes to carry the game on TV, tents, and all sorts of games.  Not everyone has a ticket to the game, so they just come for the party.

And the food! There are some people I've met in this town who spend 2-3 days just cooking for their weekly tailgate.  I'm not one of them.  I'll go to the Wegman's grocery store for something special if we have guests.  They have an amazing selection of tailgate food.

Elaborate preparations are not for us.  We usually keep it very simple.  We pack our one cooler, at least 25 years old, with mostly soda, a few beers, and some ice.  We have one grocery bag with miscellaneous items and snacks.  We have a tray in the cooler that might carry a sub or some cheese and fruit.  We throw four chairs into the trunk, perhaps a table.  We throw extra layers of clothing if we need them into the trunk, check that we have our tickets and parking pass.  That's about it.   But we do have two rituals:  mascots and  magnets.

We add to our car an old, stuffed lion, at least 30 years old, a blue and white hand-knit prayer shawl, also old, and the mascot of the opposing team we play.  These will adorn the roof of our car at the tailgate. We are very superstitious about bringing these to every game. We think they add luck and increase our chances of winning.

Today, we "dressed" our car with Penn State magnets.   We used to do this when we owned a white car years ago and drove 185 miles to a home game from Easton, PA.  For a while, we also brought them to away games.  We always rented white cars from Avis so the magnets would stand out.  But later we owned a red car, then a green one, and the magnets didn't look quite right.  They adorned our refrigerator instead.   And carrying magnets with us on airplanes became burdensome, so we stopped.  But Avis always gives us a white car anyhow.  It's in our record.  They apologize when they don't have one.

This summer, we purchased a midnight blue car - Penn State navy blue.   I had the magnets in mind when I convinced Terry to shy away from the red one he preferred.    Besides, I didn't want us to drive a red car to Beaver Stadium for the Ohio State game!

So all 26 of the magnets we have collected over the years were positioned on our new car for the drive to Beaver Stadium.   Terry thinks I'm crazy, but I will insist on it from now on.  It turns heads as we drive down the street.

Finally, we're ready to go.  There's a final check to make sure we really do have the tickets and parking in our possession.  We leave for the stadium - 7 miles away on back roads.  It takes about 15 minutes, 30 minutes if it's a big game.

We park behind the North End Zone in the shadow of the stadium.  A pleasant grassy reserved parking lot with some very nice people around us.  A mix of old people, younger people, and kids.  We see them week after week during football season. Many of them have elaborate tailgates and tons of people who meet them there.  And on a sunny day like today, everyone has a great time.  It's a very family-oriented, pleasant environment where we park.  Lots of kids throwing footballs, older people get into a game of "tailgate golf" or bean bags.   It's easy to forget that the reason we're here is the game, especially on a sunny day like today.

We're always the first to pack up our tailgate and leave for the gates - that's one of the reason we keep our tailgate simple!  About 75 minutes before the game Terry starts getting antsy.  He wants to watch the pre-game warm-ups and be in the seats an hour before the game.  I like to take lots of photos of the "scene" surrounding the stadium.  I usually tell him I'll meet him in the seats and take pictures until the pre-game show. 

In the stadium there are old friends.  Terry has had the same seats for 31 years at Beaver Stadium.  So has Larry, who sits right in front of us, and his son Darryl, who has had a few tours of duty in Afghanistan.  I always breath a sigh of relief when I see him each fall.  Dave and Sharon, old friends from Allentown, and Dave's sister Janet and her husband John, who make their annual trek up from Florida for the first game of every season.  We have two extra tickets next to us that we use for guests.  Today our guests were Ben and his friend.  As a kid, Ben used to come to games with his father Mike, a former colleague of mine and a Penn State grad.  We hadn't seen Ben for six years, and he is now a college graduate.  His friend, a Tulane graduate, had never been to a Penn State game.  He was awestruck. 

So reunions - in the parking lot - in the stadium.  Tailgate by tailgate, row by row, everyone reunites for yet another season and gathers for one purpose:  to see Penn State win.  We really are a family.  And if you combine all these individual experiences together it's one BIG family.   The 2009 Penn State White-Out T-Shirt says on the back, "Don't Be Intimidated.  It's Just Me and 110,000 of my Friends".  It's really true.

The first game of the season, on a perfect summer-like day.  It doesn't get any better than this, especially when we win!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

College Football is Here! Why Is It So Much Fun?

I can't even count how many times this topic has come up: What is it about college football - and Penn State - that has you hooked?  Why do you go to all those games? 

There are four aspects of the game that are attractive to me: the customer experience of being physically present at a game, the chance to watch young players evolve over 4-5 years, the game itself with its complex strategic elements, and the post-game banter at the workplace after a game.

Marketers talk a lot about the customer experience. We try to figure out what is it that makes customers want to come back and partake of our products or services again. Penn State has built one of the best customer experiences in the nation.  That experience includes the tailgating, the interaction with other fans, the pre-game and halftime shows, the crowd, the crazy student section, the post-game tailgates waiting for the parking lots to clear out.  

For away games it is visiting a new campus, experiencing their unique traditions and atmosphere, and good-natured bantering with opposing team fans – often being invited to one of their tailgates on an impromptu basis. None of this experience can be obtained by watching a game on TV. For a football novice like myself when I started attending games, it was this customer experience that was the first “hook” – I knew nothing really about the game at first.

The second aspect that hooked me was the chance to see players evolve over time. Over a stretch of 4-5 years, you watch each of these young men develop their skills from their first appearance in a spring Blue-White scrimmage game to their final appearance on Senior Day, their last home football game. You watch them play every down during their career.   You watch their freshman mistakes and the ups and downs.  You feel the grief when they get injured.  You feel the joy when they turn into difference-makers between winning and losing a game.  You are thrilled when they graduate, but also sad because they definitely will be missed.

Most of the college football players you come to know and love over 4-5 years will graduate and become successful in other fields besides sports.  Only a handful will enter the NFL, and very few of those will survive more than a few years.  A school like Penn State ensures success not only on the field, but also off the field, through carefully monitoring their academic progress and ensuring that they are prepared for life beyond football.  I can vouch for that personally.  Nobody in athletics has ever pressured me over a student-athlete's grades.  Even when I gave an "F" on a mid-term to a critically important football player who was a difference-maker in every game! 

Over time, I’ve learned how the game is played. It’s easy to learn the basics, but harder to learn all the offensive and defensive schemes. I’m still not totally confident in all the X’s and O’s, but I can now recognize certain plays as they develop on the field, have fun second-guessing what plays might come next, or what plays might have worked better than the failure that just occurred. I now follow the entire line-up of players and not just the ball. I pay more attention to things like good blocks and tackles that allow plays to be successful. I have appreciation for the competitive strategy involved. It’s a game that appeals to the intellect as well as the more base emotions when plays go right or go wrong. It’s simply engaging once you know enough to follow what’s happening.

And there are constant surprises.   Just ask Joe Paterno.  Even with all his experience with the most wins in college football, he can be out-coached.  That's what makes it so fascinating.

Finally, there’s the post-game banter. When I started my life with Terry, I worked in marketing at a company in New Jersey. I didn't have an appreciation for the role that sports plays in the workplace. But once I became a devotee of Penn State football, there would be a string of visitors in my office on Monday morning – Penn State fans or Big Ten fans or even some who despised Penn State – who came by just to comment on the game, to get my take on “what really happened” because they knew I was there and all they saw was what was shown on TV. Being an avid Penn State fan enhanced my reputation in the workplace and carried over to work-related teamwork.

I also can’t count how many men would come to my office and ask me how to get their wives involved in the game. They were secretly jealous of my husband Terry that I was so committed to going to the games with him.  I never quite had an answer for them.  I had been converted from a non-sports fan but I really couldn't articulate how to do it for others.

That post-game banter continues at Penn State with the students and colleagues, but it's somewhat different now that I'm teaching at Penn State, because it's all PSU fans.  I often start my classes with a few photos from each Saturday’s game. The students love the photos when we win. They don’t want to be reminded though of a loss. They begged me not to show the Iowa pictures last year! I did anyway to their chagrin, because the customer experience of being at Iowa – a great tailgating environment with very friendly fans, a wonderful atmosphere in the stadium – is worth knowing about. I wasn’t so excited about showing my students the Rose Bowl pictures. I stuck mostly to the Rose Parade. There wasn’t much to say about the game.

So now...a new season!  The opening game is always fun, and the speculation about how the season will turn out will be intense!  Time to get ready... it's less than 48 hours away!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

#1's abound: Best Student Section, Best Party School, and then there's Zippy!

Football season is finally here, and we have a lot to anticipate for Saturday's game.  First and foremost, we will get to see what the new Penn State football team has to offer.  It's hard to know at this point in the season what we have.

Joe Paterno has already stated "We're lousy".  But that doesn't mean we won't win.  It just means that there will be some kinks to work out in Penn State's armor.  The key to the first game of any season is which team is LESS lousy than the other team.  The team that's more adept at working out the first game kinks will be the team that wins the game. 

The 12 noon start works a bit in Akron's favor.   Why? Because the #1 Student Section in the country, as declared by Kirk Herbstreit this week, is a bit slow when it comes to these early games.  If they follow the typical pattern for a 12 noon game, the student section won't be full until perhaps 20 minutes into the first half.  And without the students, the atmosphere isn't quite as intimidating as it could be.

If Akron scores early in the first half and builds confidence in themselves going into half-time, the game will be closer than some might predict.  We need the student section - their energy and noise and craziness! Herbstreit's declaration is well-deserved - for games that start at 3:30 p.m. or later.  Or for the second half of any game.  But I've seen 12 noon games where a "lesser" team has capitalized on the more subdued 1st half atmosphere, and Penn State has struggled to catch up and win.

I'm confident that Penn State will win this game.  But we need more than that: we need the chance to build experience and depth in our positions.  We need to score big early, not late, so the second and third string players get some playing time, especially our new quarterbacks.  We need the student section because they matter.  Their noise and enthusiasm carries the rest of the stadium.

Often on a Monday morning I have shown the students a photo of the half-empty student section and asked them why they weren't there at kickoff.  I show them the time on the scoreboard when the section is finally full.  I get the inevitable answer:  "But I tried to get there early and the gates were too slow."  What time did you arrive at the gates, I ask.  "Oh I was there a full 15 minutes before kickoff."  LOL. It's a bit impossible anywhere at Beaver Stadium, even with reserved seats, if you wait that long to enter! We're at the gates an hour before kickoff to watch the pre-game warm-ups and then the pre-game show.  Even a 15-minute delay getting to the gates can cause us to barely make it for the Star Spangled Banner.

Here's where the #1 party school as designated by the Princeton Review conflicts with the #1 student section as declared by Herbstreit.   It's not that the students are sleeping in on a Saturday morning.  They're at their very organized and elaborate tailgates by 8 or 9 a.m.  It's just that the students are  reluctant to leave their parties, and eternally optimistic about how long it will take to get to their seats once they arrive at the gates.   The game isn't their only priority.

I shudder to think of what might happen this Saturday with the new student ID system for ticket exchange and gate entry.  I hope it works smoothly and that it actually speeds up the process of admission at the gates. I will hear the complaints in class on Monday if there are problems! 

In the meantime, we have Zippy to welcome, Akron's award-winning mascot.  Zippy was declared the 2008 #1 mascot in a contest sponsored by Capital One.      I don't remember much about the last time we played Akron, but I do remember Zippy as being an especially entertaining mascot.  There should be some fun antics on the field between our Nittany Lion and Zippy.

When we joined the Big Ten in 1993, we started collecting the stuffed mascots of every opposing team at away games.  Each fall, we line up the mascots in the order that Penn State plays the teams on our fireplace mantle. At the beginning of the season, all mascots are standing.  If we win, we turn them face down.  If we lose, the mascots remain standing.  Right now our Iowa Hawkeye mascot is the only mascot that's standing on our mantle.  I normally like to buy these mascots in person at away games.  I couldn't find one at the Rose Bowl for USC.  It's okay.  I don't really want to be reminded of that loss.

But I just ordered a stuffed version of Zippy to be delivered by overnight express to our house.   It's worth adding Zippy to our mascot collection.  He's a very cute kangaroo!

Once Zippy arrives, we will re-arrange our mascots on the mantle - all standing up in the order we play them - to start the new season.  An annual ritual.

Ahh!  Football!!!  It's upon us.  Go Penn State!!! Let's win some games and build some experience.