Monday, September 28, 2009

Happy Hawkeye Valley

On Saturday, I visited State College, PA to watch my Hawkeyes try to silence 110,000 fans hell-bent on revenge, packed into the largest stadium in the country. I've now seen the Hawks play at every Big Ten stadium except Indiana (I'm saving the best for last - hah!). Saturday night's atmosphere at Beaver Stadium was, by far, the most electric environment I've been in. The entire rain-drenched stadium singing Have You Ever Seen the Rain was an incredible thrill. video link

The two words which best describe Michael and my interaction with the PSU community is class and hospitality. With the exception (and it was a big exception) of the drunk college kids tailgating in the field in which we parked, we enjoyed interacting with the friendly and knowledgeable PSU faithful. Whether it was the sports bar in which we watched the early Big Ten games, walking around campus or even in the stands, PSU fans took great pride in their hospitality. I'd never had people welcome me to their campus and on Saturday, it happened over and over! Most people to which we talked to learn we'd driven the 17 hours from Kansas City. They were even more shocked to learn that we would be driving 17 hours back to KC right after the game. We did stop for a two hour nap just over the Ohio border.

It rained - a lot. Our only rain gear were two Chiefs ponchos, which covered our black and gold and likely made us the only people in Beaver stadium wearing red. These ponchos resulted in some funny and rude comments. Mostly because we stood out but also because the Chiefs were playing the Philadelphia Eagles the next day. I should've carried a sign, "yes, I know the Chiefs suck but thanks for reminding me." After the game, we tore off the ponchos and walked around a stadium that was empty except for other celebrating Hawk fans. We went over to the bleachers right under the press box and yelled up to Hawkeye radio color man and Chiefs hall of famer, Eddie Podalak, who leaned out of the press box window to give us a celebratory fist-pump. At that time, I did wish I still had on the Chiefs poncho.

Our seats were literally the worst seats in the stadium. We were in the upper corner of the top deck of the end zone, so far away we could barely tell what was happening on the field. From what I could decipher, however, the game went almost exactly the way I'd predicted it would go, the Iowa defensive line dominating the game. I have to admit however, that I overestimated the need for Iowa's offense to score, since the defense scored almost half the points and provided a short field for the offense to score its share.

PSU fans vocally and wholeheartedly celebrate their proud football tradition. They do so, however in an amazingly classy and almost understated manner. This is best illustrated by the chant that can be heard coming from the pre-game tailgates and echoing throughout Beaver Stadium. Half the fans call out "We Are." The other half respond with "Penn State." It's a great college football tradition. I thoroughly enjoyed, then, leading the Hawk fans in my section in a variation of that great cheer, "We OWN - Penn State!" I had been hoping that lead that witty cheer and busted it out when it became clear halfway through the 4th quarter that we were going to beat PSU for the 7th time in the last 8 games.

One final observation: Never in all my trips to opposing Big 10 stadiums have I seen a fan base so obsessed with beating Iowa. The general motivation wasn't just "beat Iowa and get another conference 'W'," it was "we want revenge" or "payback time" or more coarse descriptions of payback. There were about 5k Iowa fans in attendance but more than 5,000 PSU fans were wearing shirts with some sort of derogatory statement about Iowa. What completely amazed me was that just before the PSU team took the field, the big screen showed Daniel Murray's last second field goal that knocked PSU out of last year's national title game. The crowd booed the play and then cheered the promise of revenge that blasted over the PA. The fact that we beat them when they were so determined to extract painful revenge makes this victory even sweeter. Here's a video of the team taking the field and the pre-entrance video, though it's hard to tell much of what's happening.

PSU fans have one more year of living with the reality that they're owned by the only coach classier than Joe Pa, Pennsylvania native and Nittany Lion killer, Kirk Ferentz.

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