Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happy Valley Victorious Over Death Valley in Mud Valley

In a season characterized by weird weather, it was only fitting that the Capital One Bowl would be a torrential rainy mess. It was a game that was defined by the condition of the field. A field that was in terrible shape BEFORE the rain, as judged by the complaints about the field at the Champs Sports Bowl a few days before, only got worse with the rain.

If I’m Capital One, sponsoring this bowl, I’m pretty mad at Florida Citrus Sports for the embarrassingly pathetic field conditions. But as a fan, I’m pretty mad at Capital One for over-playing all those TV commercials at the game rather than using breaks to allow the LSU or PSU bands to entertain us. There's only so many times you can watch that old miner in the well wait for someone to rescue him. It's already been over-played on TV, and it was certainly over-played at the game as well.

Speaking of field conditions, I’m sure that Joe Paterno was none too happy about the pre-game and half-time activities, where both bands marched and hundreds of high school cheerleaders from some sort of USA cheerleading squad jumped up and down on the muddy field before the game making the field even more of a muddy mess. Although I must confess that it was nice to see the Penn State band do its marching routine on the field during the rain – something that never happens at Beaver Stadium because JoePa is super-protective of his home turf. If JoePa had his way, none of the bands or cheerleaders would have performed at the Capital One Bowl. But he wasn’t in control.

The LSU crowd, a cheerful, friendly, and boisterous bunch, was present in force, and I would say were the majority. Penn State was well represented though. We were also loud and boisterous. As it was pointed out at a Penn State luncheon we attended, Florida has 15,000 year round residents who are Penn State alumni, and in the winter, another 30,000 Penn Staters descend upon Florida as “snow-birds”. But the rain kept some of the fans from both teams away. There were plenty of empty seats on both sides of the field, and tickets were for sale everywhere outside of the stadium. It wasn’t a good day for scalpers.

We were glad that we had purchased a parking pass on-line. We parked in a muddy soggy field in our rental van, about 4 blocks from the stadium. There were a few tents including one nearby with a neat Penn State trailer – owned by a PSU fan who drove it down from Connecticut. But mostly people stayed in their cars and vans waiting for the few respites from the rain when they could go out and throw a few footballs. Very few folks were grilling. Although there was a group of students or perhaps young alums playing a few beer games not too far away.

We were also delighted by a visit by Gershon and his wife Ronnie. Gershon is a great fan of this blog, a regular contributor to comments, and he wanted to meet me. So we hooked up via cell phone and they found our van and stopped by and visited for a while before the game. Thanks, Gershon! I’m flattered by your effort to find us in the pouring rain and also by your loyal following of this blog. I hope we can spend some more time together in better conditions at a future game!

There were a number of people who for some reason weren’t prepared for the weather. I don’t know why. This is Florida on January 1. It can be cold and wet. And it was. Also the weather forecast for days had been predicting rainy weather. Terry and I had brought our raingear and wore several layers – we needed them all because the rain brought a cold front with it, it was also quite windy in the stands. But other fans were soaking wet in their T-shirts. Brrrrrrr.

As far as the game itself, in a game where the field conditions defined what each team could accomplish, touchdowns were hard to come by. Our defense did a great job of holding LSU to just a field goal in the first half. PSU kicker Collin Wagner was perfect on his four field goal attempts, contributing 12 of the 19 points that Penn State scored. Punter extraordinaire Jeremy Boone, known for pinning the opposing team deep in their own end zone, was probably a bit frustrated as his punts kept bouncing into the end zone rather than plopping into the mud as he had hoped. He received no help from his special teammates who couldn’t run fast enough in the mud to contain the punted balls on the one-yard line.

After a 13-3 half-time lead, it seemed that the defense fell asleep, or perhaps LSU just figured something out. Or maybe the fact that there was no more rain helped them. In any case, Penn State was able to score only 3 points in the 3rd quarter, whereas LSU managed a touchdown. Of course, it didn’t help that PSU gave LSU possession on the PSU 47-yard line because we chose to squib kick the ball after our field goal rather than kick it deep. So their first touchdown was the result of a short field. We were very dismayed by that kick choice. After a Penn State 3-and-out, LSU came right back and scored another touchdown. Now it was 17-16 in the 4th quarter, and it was quite a tense atmosphere.

Credit Darryl Clark for sustaining a long game-winning drive and taking a lot of time off the clock. It was enough to allow Collin Wagner to hit his fourth field goal and put us up 19-17. But at that point in the game there was still 57 seconds left on the clock. “Too much time,” I said to Terry. He agreed that we were in a precarious situation, thought we would probably lose. And when LSU was able to move the ball to within 20 yards of field goal range, we knew we were in trouble.

I never like to see officiating determine the outcome of the game. And I’m really not sure what happened. But an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against LSU put them out of field goal range with just a few ticks on the clock. So Penn State won the game on a controversial call. The officiating was questionable in other aspects. We were incredulous that the officials couldn’t keep track of what down it was, on two different plays. We’ll have to watch the tape to figure out what happened. In the stands we were mostly confused.

In any case, a win is a win, and this one was a big one on a sloppy day when neither team could play their best because of the weather and the field. We won against a ranked team and it was fun to hear the students chant “Dar-ryl Cla-rk” as we were exiting the stadium. He was named the Most Valuable Player and that was well deserved. He leaves Penn State with a 22-4 record as quarterback. We will miss him and all the other seniors. We’re glad they went out with a victory against a very solid Top 25 SEC football team.

Now we’re back at Disney World. Staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. The only lions and tigers we’ve seen were at the game yesterday. When we step out onto our balcony, though, we never know what we will encounter. Giraffes, zebras, roan antelope, and ankole cattle roam freely through the savannah in front of us. It’s a serene environment amidst the chaos of Disney during the holidays. We’re hoping all the kids leave today and tomorrow to go back to school so we will have a chance to really enjoy the parks for two days before we head home. Right now it’s about 40 degrees, cold and sunny.

Florida? That’s right. But still fun, especially when we win.


  1. Hi Carolyn
    It's Gary Saeger from Allentown. Simply wanted to let you know, I thoroughly enjoyed following your blog this season. Although I may not have commented each week, I logged in to read your well written pieces.
    One comment on the Capitol Bowl field conditions. I understand the field was resodded on Dec 24th. I wonder how the landscaping professionals figured the new sod would sufficiently root well enough in a mere 7 days to allow for great football conditions. Even without the rain, the sod had to very loose.
    Looking forward to next season

  2. Hi Gary, thanks for being a loyal follower of this blog. I appreciate your occasional comments. I guess the Florida Citrus Sports crew could have benefited from consulting with Penn State's turf grass specialists. I remember one year that Beaver Stadium's sod came apart at the beginning of a season and they were able to fix it in a week. In any case, I'm not exactly sure what I'll do with this blog during the off-season, but I will continue to post occasionally. Have a good new year!