This week the hallway conversation at Smeal College is all about the Blue-White game. My students keep asking, “Mrs. Todd, aren’t you excited? The Blue-White game is coming up!” My usual response? “Of course!” But alas, it’s a bit of a white lie.
So I have a confession to make: we don’t always go to the Blue-White game. As the game has become more popular, it has become more of a hassle to attend. And there is an alternative: last year, watching it on the Big Ten Network, this year, watching it on ESPN2. One of the attractive aspects of staying home is listening to Joe Paterno’s comments on the radio while we watch the TV visuals. In a sense, we learn more that way about the current state of the team.
A large part of the problem is parking. The carnival and proliferation of food stands that set up behind the West stands eliminated a lot of spaces, and the popularity of the game has skyrocketed. What used to be 30,000-40,000 people attending the game has swelled to 70,000+.
The parking and game are free, but it’s a free-for-all – no reserved parking - and you don’t know where you will find a space – you have to get there early – REAL early - at 7 or 8 a.m. to get a decent space near the stadium. If you go to the Blue-White game, it’s an all-day affair. You’re competing with 70,000 people for some place to park, with little method to the madness. It’s a great family event and tailgating scene, and a wonderful way for families and students who do not have regular access to season tickets to experience the atmosphere of Penn State football. Another big attraction for kids is the autograph session at the stadium and the carnival.
Two years ago, we arrived about 3 hours before the game started, and there was little parking to be found. We were directed into a field off University Drive. We couldn’t find a space, and there were tents blocking the lanes to get to more parking on an adjacent field. We had to back up, and with all the kids around, it was pretty tense. We settled on a tight parking space– one that we had rejected earlier for being too small – but it was the only one available.
The people surrounding us had setup their tailgates at 7 a.m. Some family groups and mostly students surrounded us, including a large group of students. A friendly bunch, they invited us to join them in drinking margaritas, beer, and other alcoholic drinks. A nice gesture, but we said no. After all, it was 11 a.m. I told them I’d take something non-alcoholic, but they didn’t have any soda or water. It was a bunch of seniors enjoying their last football game ever before they graduated. They were very nostalgic about their Penn State experience, didn’t want to see it end.
We don’t drink at Penn State football games. A strict rule about drinking and driving is our primary reason. A secondary reason is that we learned a long time ago that we enjoy the game more when we’re sober. Terry might have a beer after the game, if someone offers, but that's about it. I will drive home. And that day, we hadn’t bothered to pack a cooler, reasoning that we could get a drink and food at the food stands.
The people around us had been drinking for 4 hours and showed no signs of slowing down. Beer pong parties were in full force. It was a different experience for us watching them and learning how pong was played. In the reserved parking lot we normally park in during the regular season, it’s a much older crowd, some families. There’s plenty of drinking, but the tailgates are focused more on food. If there are games, it’s usually something like “tailgate golf” or horseshoes or beanbag toss. So it was different. But soon we left for the food stands to grab some lunch and to just walk around until we could get into the stadium for the game.
When we returned to our car after the game, the entire field was full of broken beer bottles and sharply crushed beer cans. We were fearful that our tires would be slashed just getting out of the parking lot. We managed to avoid that as we drove through the refuse and got onto the road. I took a lot of pictures of all the trash that people left behind, very saddened by the scene, showed the pix to my class the following week. I didn’t see a single trash container in that field. So people just left their trash behind on the ground. Since that time, PSU has banned glass bottles, and it’s a good thing. I didn’t need to be convinced after witnessing that mess!
Before we moved to Centre County, the Blue-White game used to be a weekend we looked forward to – a highlight of spring. We lived in eastern PA, 185 miles away, and It was the only time when we would actually spend two nights in State College, usually at the Nittany Lion Inn. We could walk to the game and enjoy the downtown. We would do an annual shopping trip to the Penn State Bookstore. Blue-White always fell around our birthdays – so it was always – and still is - a birthday celebration. But now that we live here, we can do all that anytime we desire!
We’ve also discovered over time that it’s hard to learn much about the state of the football team by watching the Blue-White game. There are too many restrictions on what can be done. But it is fun seeing some of the younger players get a chance to play, and to speculate how they will contribute over time.
If it’s a nice day, it’s just nice to be outside and to enjoy the Penn State atmosphere, to enjoy football such as it is when a team plays itself, and bet on on which talent will actually start in the fall.
So what will we do this Saturday? I’ll leave it up to Terry, and Terry will defer to me. That’s our usual style of decision-making – we’ll debate the pros and cons and look at the weather forecast. But Saturday is Terry’s 75th birthday. If he wants to go, we’ll go. If he wants to stay home, then I’ve got a decision to make. This blog is an important reason to be there!
If we go, we will try to find public transportation to avoid the parking mess.
It would be nice if Penn State would give us some advice on that. For regular football games, all sorts of shuttle buses are available. But I have not found one indication in all the blue-white publicity that shuttle buses are an option for this game. Note to self: get on the phone and call the local transportation providers and ask what their plan is. Their websites indicate nothing.