Saturday, August 29, 2009

No Bottles on the Grass!

For those of us who tailgate on a grassy lot at Penn State, there is a new rule in place:  no bottles on any grassy tailgating lot.  Leave your favorite micro brew that only comes in a glass bottle home.  You'll have to get used to drinking beer from a can again.  You stand the risk of having any bottles taken away.  Assuming, of course, that Penn State has the people resources to enforce this new policy. 

My guess is that the enforcement will be concentrated on certain lots where there have been serious problems:  athletic fields where broken glass after a game have caused injuries to student-athletes at practice, agricultural fields where Penn State's livestock have been found with glass shards in them.  But we're not taking any chances.  We'll leave the Killian's Red at home and bring something else.

There are a lot of protests about this new policy.  The key question is, "Why just grassy areas, why not the paved lots?"  An editorial in Penn State's student newspaper The Daily Collegian suggested that Penn State is trying not to alienate the big donors who pay lots of money for reserved parking, most of which is on paved lots.  My guess is that they're right.

But what's fair is fair.  Penn State should just declare "No glass, period.  It's too dangerous - anywhere"  Those who pay for reserved parking will adjust.  I doubt it will cause anyone to give up their tickets or stop donating to Penn State.  They can put their vodka and whiskey in  plastic or aluminum containers.  They can bring cans rather than bottles.   It's a small inconvenience for a large gain - avoiding injury and reducing the cost to Penn State of cleaning up the lots after the game.  Besides, as The Daily Collegian points out, glass is more likely to shatter on a paved lot than on grass. 

Some people don't recognize how serious a problem this is.  We had a taste of it at a Blue-White game two years ago where we didn't have access to our reserved parking space (which is on the grass, by the way).  The parking area where we were was an absolute mess after the game - far worse than anything I've seen in reserved parking.  Broken bottles, beer cans were strewn everywhere - the utter disregard for common sense - cleaning up after a tailgate - was appalling.  I was afraid that our tires would get slashed just pulling out of the lot there was so much broken glass. 

There are some who would suggest that we don't need a new policy - that people should just clean up after themselves.  I disagree.  Human nature, especially belligerent drunken human nature that happens in some of our lots, works against that.  In this third largest city in Pennsylvania that occurs on a football Saturday at University Park, there are too many safety challenges.  By declaring no glass, Penn State can at least eliminate one safety challenge that has serious consequences. 

Look, if Ohio State can put a stop to all drinking on campus before a football game, Penn State can declare no glass.  It's a slight inconvenience.  But tailgaters can still drink.  Penn State shouldn't be so timid!  Enforce the "no glass" policy everywhere.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Following Penn State: Our Last Free Weekend

This weekend will be our last free weekend.  As of next Saturday, football will be our major focus on weekends.  What to do?  Get that guest room in shape?  Get my office organized for a new fall semester?  Or just let it all go for another season and relax?  Sigh...right now I'm writing a blog post.  It's more fun.

There are a lot of Penn State fans who are complaining about 5 out of 6 home games in the first six weeks of the season.  They go to every home game, but like a few weekends off interspersed throughout the season.  Perhaps they entertain guests and plan elaborate tailgates that are a burden.  Perhaps they live 150+ miles away and traveling to home games is a major feat, as it used to be for us.

Personally, I'm very happy with this.  For me, a home game is a breeze now.  It's a Saturday.  Our tailgates are uncomplicated, our guests are mostly local, we don't live far away.  We have Fridays and Sundays free.  It's the away game schedule that always concerns me, because that means travel to some place in the Big Ten, and a 3-day commitment of time.  And from the University Park airport, that's not easy.

Here's the drill for an away game:  almost always, on a Friday morning, we will catch a 6 a.m.-ish flight.  That means we have to get organized on Thursday night and get up at "O-Dark-Thirty" on Friday, as Terry would say, about 3:30 or 4 a.m., to feed our cats, pack our bags, and get to the airport by 5 a.m.   The reason?  Because at our tiny University Park airport there are too many planes leaving at 6 a.m.  Security gets backed up.  You have to be in line by 5:30.  And sometimes, check-in 24 hours in advance doesn't work.  You have to go to the gate to get your seat.  You pray the plane isn't overbooked, so you want to be the first in line.

There are other flights, later in the day, but frankly, there are enough problems with weather or mechanicals that we always hedge our bets:  getting to the game is our mission.  If a flight is cancelled at our connection point, we don't want it to be the last flight of the day.  Returning on a Sunday is also a concern - Terry is retired, but I can't risk taking the last flight home.  I have to teach on Monday mornings. 

We will be flying to every game but Michigan.  For Michigan, it's close enough to drive, about 6.5 hours.  We had been planning to take a bus with a tour group, but it turns out that not enough people signed up.  The tour group offered a same-day charter by flight.  We said no thanks.  Too many things can go wrong.  Our mission is to be at the game on time. 

This year, the away games are Illinois, Michigan, Northwestern, and Michigan State.  There are two away games in a row:  Michigan and Northwestern, at the end of October.  They come at a bad time:  mid-semester, when there's lots to do.  But this year my teaching schedule is very busy during the first eight weeks, less busy after mid-October - so the work schedule is more compatible with the away game schedule than it usually is.  For those two games, I will probably need to bring work with me - papers to grade, classes to prepare.  Somehow I'll manage. 

As I write this, I think of the student-athletes who are also facing this schedule.  They need to organize their lives around Penn State football, with school commitments no less daunting than mine.

They probably wish for an open date as much as I do, to catch up with life outside of football and take a breather for at least one weekend.

Our last free weekend:  what should I do? Perhaps I should just relax.  The rest can wait until the end of November.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Following Penn State: The Bowl Trip and the Subpoena

When you follow Penn State, sometimes the travels themselves can be challenging.  One of the strangest experiences we had was when we traveled to the Blockbuster Bowl at the end of the 1992 season.

We were scheduled to play Stanford on January 1 at Joe Robbie Stadium (now Pro Player Stadium), in Florida.  Our tour company booked us at a hotel on the beach in Fort Lauderdale, managed by a well-known chain.  It wasn't exactly a 5-star hotel, but it was okay. 

The only thing that mattered was a win on New Year's Day.  It had been a disappointing 7-4 season.  The only reason we were playing on January 1 was a pre-arrangement with the Blockbuster Bowl. We were guaranteed a spot if we had a winning season.  It was the transition year between being an Independent and joining the Big Ten conference. 

We were with a tour, but rented a car for flexibility.  On the morning of New Year's Eve, we used the car to run an errand.  We came back to the hotel mid-day, checked our car into valet parking and went to our room.

A few minutes after arriving at our room, the hotel valet called with a question:  "Did you give your car keys to someone else?"  "No,", we said, "We gave them to you."  His response:  "Well, someone just drove off with your car.  I'll call the police.  You'd better come down."

We went down to valet parking, where the police took our statement of how we turned over the rental car keys to the hotel, and did not witness the theft.  The valet admitted that he was careless and had left the lock box open while he went to get another car, and the thief stole the keys from the open lock box.  He did see the theft, and even gave a description of the thief.  Then we called Avis.  They said, "No problem, take a cab to the airport, we'll reimburse you for the cab fare, and give you another rental car."

The Penn State Pep Rally was about to start, so I told Terry to go with the tour to the Pep Rally and I would meet him there.  I took a cab to the airport, and filed a stolen car report with Avis.  The problem was that I had no keys to turn in.  They said, "Just give us a written statement from the hotel that the keys were in their possession, not yours, and everything will be fine."

They even gave us an upgraded car. I drove to the Pep Rally to join Terry.  The team seemed flat and totally unexcited to be playing in the Blockbuster Bowl.   We started to get worried about our chances in the game.

We drove back to the hotel, parked in self-parking.  A different valet noticed this.  He said, "You shouldn't do that. There's a lot of car thefts out of that lot."   We spent the rest of the trip looking over our shoulders.

The hotel turned out to be a major problem.  They refused to cooperate in writing the needed letter.  In fact, the hotel manager on duty became downright nasty about it.  The tour director and I spent three frustrating days chasing the hotel management to no avail. 

We also had a miserable loss at the bowl game:  Stanford won 24-3.  Not fun.  Penn State wasn't in the game at all.  Losing the game didn't help our mood. 

I finally called Avis and told them the hotel wouldn't cooperate.  That's when they told us it was okay - they would just need a copy of the police report.  Sigh.  Why didn't they tell us that earlier?  The police report had the truth.  It would just take a few more days and a few dollars to get a copy of it.  I told them I would acquire it and send it along.

A few days after we returned home Avis called to tell us the car was recovered with no damages in South Miami.  They asked us if we had left anything in the car, because there were some things they found.  "No," I said.  "We left nothing behind."  I asked them what they found.  There was a trunkful of gay pornographic magazines.

Other than some inconvenience and a couple of days of frustration with the hotel, it turned out okay, even a bit humorous.  Except, of course, for the Penn State loss.

Then, about four months later, I received a subpoena from the courthouse in Fort Lauderdale,  asking me to appear in court to testify against the thief.  They actually caught him.  I immediately called the courthouse.  I said, "Do I have to? I'm in Pennsylvania".  They said, "Yes, you do. We will pay your expenses to come to Florida to testify."  I pleaded, "Can't I just give you a statement over the phone? I saw nothing, there's really nothing to say.  I'm not the victim here - Avis is.  They owned the car."  They said, "No, you were the renter of the vehicle when the theft happened.  You have to show up in person.  You're the victim."  They made arrangements for a plane ticket for me to pick up at the airport.  I worked full-time as a marketing executive.  I had to cancel a couple of customer meetings to appear in court. 

A few days before the hearing, the courthouse called.  I didn't have to go to Florida.  The thief decided to take a plea bargain.  He was going to jail.  Whew.  End of story!

But not quite.   I received another subpoena from the courthouse about six months later asking me to testify against the thief.   Included in the package was legal documentation about victim's rights.  They subpoenaed me to testify - to provide evidence of injury and ask for compensation during his parole hearing.  Again I told them, "Call Avis, they're the victim. I have nothing to say, there was no injury to me other than a few hours of inconvenience."  This time, thankfully, I didn't have to go.  They asked me if I wanted to waive my rights.  I said, "Hell, yes!  I don't want this thief who just spent six months in jail knowing who I am."  They told me to write a letter to waive my rights to the hearing, which I did.

It was the weirdest Penn State bowl trip ever.  And not just because we lost the game.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ask me After October 3rd...

Enough people at Penn State and Smeal College of Business know that I'm an avid Penn State fan that on the first day of classes, I'm constantly asked, "So what do you think, will Penn State be good this year?"  My answer for this season is, "Frankly I don't know...ask me after October 3".  That's when we play Illinois at Memorial Stadium in  Champaign. 

Pre-season polls rank us #8 or #9.  But of course that reflects last year, not this year.  We have a favorable schedule.  We play 5 out of our first 6 games at Beaver Stadium. We play our toughest opponents toward the end of the season.

We start with Akron, then we play Syracuse, then Temple.  We should beat these teams easily at home, as long as the Penn State team keeps their focus on winning and doesn't overlook any team. Penn State simply has more depth and talent than these teams can muster.  Although we could we be surprised - think Appalachian State and Michigan a few years ago.

Then we start our Big Ten Schedule, with Iowa at home.  Iowa will give us some clue as to what sort of team we have.  Iowa beat us last year, our only loss, and it was a game we should have won - a painful loss for all Penn State fans, especially those of us who were present.  So the team will want to avenge that loss, the game's set for 8 p.m. and has been declared a "White House".  The students and the crowd will be pumped, and most likely by kickoff a bit "giddy" from tailgating all day.    It will be very noisy, and the crowd will be a huge factor.  It will be tough for Iowa to win, because of this home field advantage.  But it's possible.

Here's where a weak schedule for the first three games really hurts.  The Penn State team could be overconfident if they blow out their first three opponents.  They may not yet know what their weaknesses are.   Iowa has enough talent - and confidence based on last year's improbable win - to upset Penn State at Beaver Stadium. It's a dangerous game.  But my gut says we'll pull out a win.

My biggest concern right now is Penn State at Illinois on October 3.  Our first away game. Last time we were there, the stadium was being renovated, and seats were limited.  Now it's complete, with 5,000 new seats.  Ron Zook is a good coach.  Illinois had a 5-7 losing season last year.  But Juice Williams is a huge threat and so is Martez Wilson, a junior linebacker who has been named to the Butkus Award watch list.

If Illinois is energized in front of a sold out crowd, and Penn State goes to that game "flat" because it's been relatively easy so far in the season, then it could be a loss on the road.  Anything can happen in the Big Ten! 

Then there's always the possiblity of injuries.  Or flu.   The team, especially our quarterback Darryl Clark, needs to stay healthy. They can't overlook ANY game. 

So...ask me after October 3.  Only then, if we're still undefeated, will I start getting excited about our season prospects.

Carolyn Todd

Sunday, August 23, 2009

I wasn't always a football fan...

Football is relatively new to me. As a teenager, I remember going to a few junior high school and high school games - the annual Thanksgiving day battle. But that was about it.

I grew up in the Boston area. I wasn't even much of a sports fan. Like everyone else in Boston, I rooted for the Red Sox, the Patriots, the Celtics - pro sports - mostly when they were in the playoffs and beyond. I was vaguely aware of Boston College and Doug Flutie's Heisman Trophy.

That all changed when I married Terry in 1987. The marriage contract went something like this: "Carolyn, you have two choices. You can go to the Penn State games with me, or you can kiss me goodbye every fall weekend for home and some away games."

I wasn't opposed to football. I just didn't know much about it. So I decided to try it. It helps that Beaver Stadium at Penn State is one of the best college football venues around, that we have the winningest (and oldest) college football coach, Joe Paterno, who also stands for something: not compromising academics to win games.

I found that I enjoyed the experience of college football so much that in 1989 I said to Terry, "Let's try to make all the games for one season." We made all but the first game against USC in Los Angeles in September 1990. And now it has just become routine to plan to attend every game. I've missed only 4, Terry has made them all.

How long will this continue? Who knows? We've been very lucky (and healthy).


Introduction: A Bit of Background!

With the 2009 college football season fast approaching, I have decided to start a blog about my experiences with Penn State football. From a fan perspective. What it's like in the stands.

I have some qualifications in this regard - I attend EVERY game in person. Last game I missed - anywhere in the country - was in Iowa City in 2001. That's eight years of perfect attendance throughout the Big Ten and other places - bowl games - where Penn State has played.

In fact, since 1987, when I married my husband Terry, I have watched Penn State play 120 times at away games - in 39 different stadiums, 22 different states, against 36 different opponents. NOT INCLUDING all but three home games at Beaver Stadium since 1987.

It's just plain fun.

My goal is to engage you in conversation about the fan experience and to learn about other great college football fans - tell me your stories!

I hope we can be respectful toward each other and celebrate all that is good and different about college football.

We travel to games on our own time, with our own money. Any opinions expressed here are my own and not representative of Penn State, Penn State Athletic Department, or the Smeal College of Business, where I work.