The Game, Such As It Was
Pardon me if I don't talk much about Saturday night's game. Our "view from the stands" was looking at the jumbo-tron for play action. When you're in the corner of the end zone in the 5th row, even under the best conditions it's hard to get a feel for the game.
Depth perception vanishes about halfway down the field. Action that occurs in front of you is great. But unfortunately it always seems when you're sitting at the corner of the south end zone that your team's best actions are near the north end zone.
For this game at Iowa, we would have had a better view of what happened from our living room back home. And since we haven't yet figured out how to record ahead of time now that we have all this fancy HDTV technology, we don't even have the tape of the game to review! Got to fix that.
In any case, we lost.
We need to give Iowa credit. They are a very good and much more experienced football team than Penn State is. And because they are good, and more physically dominant partially because they are older, they can make us look worse than we really are.
As for Penn State, I was simply looking for the team to make improvements - on defensive intensity in the first half and on eliminating red zone mistakes. I saw a little improvement here and there but not enough to even be competitive with Iowa.
Of course, had Penn State scored in the 3rd quarter to make the game 17-10, I might have felt differently about the game. We came oh so close to staging a possible comeback but couldn't pull it off. And we came oh so close to achieving a shutout against Iowa in the second half. But for that lousy interception at the end of the game!
Hopefully team improvements will come this month. If they don't, we're in trouble. Serious trouble.
This loss was not unexpected, although I thought we had a better chance to pull an upset than we did.
Going into this season, my most optimistic view was that on October 3 we would be 4-1. My most pessimistic view was that we would be 2-3 (Temple had a shot). My realistic view was that we would be 3-2.
Which is exactly where we are.
Our Gracious Hosts, the Cahoon Family
The Cahoon family of Iowa City has Iowa football down to a science.
They have welcomed us at every Iowa-Penn State tailgate since 1993. We met them through Greg Schraeder, who grew up in Pennsylvania and attended Penn State - Erie.
Greg and I met on a Penn State discussion board on the Internet in the early 1990's. When Penn State joined the Big Ten, Greg was living in Omaha Nebraska and happy to see Penn State travel westward into Big Ten country, especially to Iowa.
Greg had married Debbie Cahoon, whose family supports Iowa with huge passion.
When Greg learned we were coming to Iowa for that first game in 1993, he invited Terry and me to the Cahoon tailgate. We have been attending their Iowa tailgates and rendezvousing with Deb and Greg Schraeder all over Big Ten country ever since. They have become good friends, and we have seen them becoming parents and raise three children - Brittany, Tyler, and Hannah - who are now teenagers.
Deb's mother, Betty Cahoon, is the matriarch of the Cahoon family, and this Penn State-Iowa game brought her four sons - Brad, Jeff, Doug, and John - and of course her daughter Deb - plus all their spouses and kids - back home to Iowa City for the first time in a while. Thus there was a larger than usual Cahoon crowd in town and at the tailgate and game.
So it was a bit crazy figuring out the parking situation and ensuring everyone, including us, who wanted to go to the game had tickets and a ride to and from the game.
Terry and I were staying in Bettendorf, Iowa, and we were directed to an office building parking lot to the east of Iowa City. From there, the youngest Cahoon brother - John - shuttled the Penn State contingent - Terry and me plus Greg and two of his kids - Tyler and Brittany - directly to the stadium. Later on John ran several other shuttles for other family members - all Iowa fans - to and from the stadium.
The Cahoons are major contributors to Iowa football, the I-Club. In return they get access to a premium lot next to the stadium, but not a numbered space. They have to get to the lot early in order to secure a premium space.
So early on that morning, Greg's van was parked in that lot. Greg could not have gotten any closer to the stadium. He was literally next to the gate!
The van had been filled with tailgating supplies - homemade goodies, chocolate covered potato chips (a gift for us from Betty Cahoon - yummy!), black and gold tortilla chips, table, chairs, cooler, etc.
Other Cahoon cars had been dropped off in parking lots further away from the stadium to ensure that everyone had a ride to get home after the game.
Sound complicated? It was. It made Terry and I appreciate our tailgating setup at Beaver Stadium, where not only parking lots, but also parking spaces, can be reserved. And even general parking is within reasonable walking distance. Penn Staters don't realize how lucky we are.
Iowa has the Hawkeye Express - an Amtrak train that will shuttle fans to the stadium from a shopping center west of Iowa City. I wanted to try that but it turned out to be inconvenient because it was west of town, not east of town. The Cahoons warned against it because we would be crossing traffic after the game. There appeared to be no easy shuttle bus system like Beaver Stadium has that can be accessed from multiple directions.
In any case, the Cahoon home-grown shuttle worked like a charm. After the game we took a late night walking tour in a throng of people through the Iowa campus to get to our ride home, but as promised the locations of their parked cars allowed us to avoid most traffic out of the stadium at the end of the game.
We will look forward to seeing Betty Cahoon and her sons in Iowa City in 2012. After that, we're not sure how often we will return to Kinnick Stadium. As for the Schraeders, with both Brittany and Tyler eyeing Penn State for college, I suspect there will be a few games that they desire to attend while they tour campus, specifically Iowa and Nebraska. At least when it comes to Nebraska, the entire Schraeder family is united. They will be even more so now that Nebraska has joined the Big Ten!
They welcomed us at the first Big Ten game Penn State ever played in 1993. We are grateful for all their good spirit and the fun times we have had with them over the last two decades. It has always been a favorite trip for us because of their great hospitality.
Fun Fans (for the Most Part)
The atmosphere at Iowa is first class. With the late game, though, and quite a bit of drinking, there were a few belligerent drunks here and there. They didn't cause much of a big problem for us, but some of the chants were not very friendly, and Terry told me he felt a bit harassed as he waited for a port-a-potty. He advised me to stay away from them.
There was one chant we heard that neither Terry nor I could argue with: "We Own...Penn State". Under the Kirk Ferentz era at Iowa, that is unfortunately just too true.
There weren't many Penn State fans around where we were tailgating. Nor did it seem like there were many fans in the stands. Half of our tiny Penn State section was filled with Iowa fans! There was another group of Penn Staters in another section near the other end zone, but we couldn't even see them.
Speaking of beer, our friend Greg continued his tradition of scrounging a beer off an opposing team fan. He is funny. He doesn't bring any alcoholic beverages to the game. He just assumes that he can charm someone into offering him a beer.
This time it was a trade. The folks next to us asked if they could use our tailgate's hand sanitizer. So Greg said, "Sure, for a beer." Somehow it didn't seem much like an even exchange, but it worked.
The majority of Iowa fans were very pleasant. As we walked around the stadium and down Melrose Street looking for pork burgers, turkey legs, and other goodies to bring back to our tailgate, we had a lot of welcomes and good lucks shouted our way.
One couple approached us and was especially welcoming. They told us of their very positive experience at Beaver Stadium last year for the Iowa game. That was VERY good to hear!
Four Iowa students approached our tailgate. They were on a team scavenger hunt and were tasked with taking a photo with a Penn State fan. I obliged them for that. They also had on their list finding a couple with divided Penn State/Iowa loyalties. They came to the right tailgate for that!
The students were delighted that they could knock two off their list at once! Perhaps even three. Greg demonstrated a beer belly for them as they snapped a photo. Maybe that was on their list as well.
The scavenger hunt was a great way to get students to interact with opposing team fans on a positive basis. It was a lot of fun, not only for us but for the students.
Maybe this is something Penn State can try to encourage good sportsmanship. In fact, I think I will suggest that to my students and to some contacts in the Penn State football office who organize a "spirit team" to greet visitors at Beaver Stadium.
I walked up to some Iowa co-eds who were sitting down right by the student gate. Asked how long they had been there. They told me they had arrived at 9:30 a.m. that morning in order to get a front row seat. Not as demanding as Paternoville, where students arrive on Thursday night!
Penn State, Take Notice Please
The Iowa Student Section was Full! 12 minutes before kickoff! And they were full at the end of the game, even after the outcome was decided.
When I mentioned this on Monday to the seniors in my classes, they were already starting to object. "But Mrs. Todd, it was a night game. We're awake by then." Or, "But they're undefeated, we're not."
I will accept that you can't compare 12 noon games with night games. But I have a hard time with stands being empty for 3:30 p.m. games or later in supposedly the best student section in the country.
Blog reader Gershon will tell me I can't fix student behavior, and he's right. But what can be fixed is whatever system Penn State uses that creates impossibly long waits to get into the stands or prevents students from transferring or selling their student tickets after a certain time in the week before the game.
I hope they are working on solving those problems as the student section is relocated next year. At Iowa, there was hardly a wait at all for students to enter their seats. Maybe it's just a better gate design that is needed.
My students assure me that for Michigan at 8 p.m., they will be in the stands at kickoff.
So now I've challenged them that kickoff isn't good enough. My standard for beating Iowa is now 12 minutes BEFORE kickoff!
Although frankly I will be thrilled if it's full by kickoff.
The Striped Stadium
The black and gold alternating stripes were impressive! It was the first time Iowa had tried it and it worked very well to keep the crowd energized. Will this be a new trend in stadiums? Perhaps.
Although I can't count the number of Iowa fans who told me they were very impressed with Penn State's white-out last year.
Still I can't help but think about how cool it would be to have a blue and white striped stadium...maybe it would be appropriate for the Iowa game next year!
Of course, some fans have suggested wearing the seating colors of the new STEP plan for a game next year. That may be a bit harder to pull off, but would certainly be an impressive statement of sorts.
Easy In, Not so Easy Out
It was pretty easy to access Kinnick Stadium for a night game, as long as you knew how to get there and where to park (which can be confusing for a visitor). The ease was enhanced by fans arriving over several hours so there seemed to be hardly any traffic at the stadium.
After the game was a different story. First, the stands were full for the entire game. Nobody left. Second, a new policy declared that all tailgating would end two hours after the game ended. So everyone was trying to leave at once.
The Schraeders left the van parked next to the stadium overnight. They figured it would be less stressful to just pick it up in the morning.
Drinking Behavior Addressed and Enforced
During our tailgate, Greg had noticed a large group of police officers near the stadium gates, and went over and asked if there was some sort of special guest coming to the game.
No, they said. They were on drinking patrol. They were trying to discourage the use of hard liquor and excessive drinking for this night game.
Added to the traffic woes after the game were police road blocks that cars had to go through - "safety checks" for alcohol. Wow. Can you imagine the traffic chaos if Penn State attempted that?
But kudos to Iowa for trying it. Perhaps a stepped up police patrol and a few hours of extraordinary delay in leaving a few home games is what is needed to convince fans to set their own limits and exercise self-control.
Oh, and by the way, two years ago Iowa had banned smoking on campus. So if you smoke you have to head over to Melrose Street across from the stadium just to take a puff. Terry and I quit smoking this summer. So we experienced one major benefit this weekend that is encouraging us to stay non-smokers: not having to go out of our way to achieve a nicotine fix.
On to Illinois and Homecoming
Having experienced Homecoming at Iowa, it's now time for our own Homecoming game, against Illinois. This will be another challenge for our young Penn State team. Illinois gave Ohio State all they could handle last week in a 24-13 loss.
How well Penn State will rebound from the loss at Iowa will dictate how the rest of the season will go.
I am sure it will be a tough week of practice for the team!