Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Penn State vs. Alabama: Returning Respect and Paying It Forward

Every person who visited Tuscaloosa, Alabama last year speaks with utmost awe about the way Joe Paterno and the Nittany Lions team and fans were treated by the Alabama Crimson Tide fans. 

At the urging of Coach Nick Saban, the Alabama students gave Coach Joe Paterno and the Penn State team a standing ovation as they entered the field at Bryant-Denny Stadium. 

In addition, individuals, including my students, came back from Tuscaloosa with stories about people going out of their way to greet them and welcome them to their tailgates.  Penn State fans in attendance were, to put it mildly, impressed by the friendliness of 'Bama fans.

As for me, there was no surprise last year.  I have had three phenomenally good experiences with 'Bama fans: in Birmingham in 1988 and then in Tuscaloosa in 1990 and most recently in Tuscaloosa in 2010. 

As an aside, I have also had mostly good experiences everywhere that Penn State has played, especially in the Big Ten.  Most of that has to do with the respect people have for Coach Joe Paterno. 

People who don't go to away games often fail to understand this respect.  There is a halo effect on Penn State fans due to Joe's status as a legend.

But back to Alabama.  Bryant-Denny stadium, since 1990, has been my second favorite college football atmosphere in the United States, primarily because of the way we were treated by 'Bama fans and also because of the absolutely awesome atmosphere within the stadium during the game. 

It is a very tough place for an opposing team to play, but it is a great deal of fun to be there, win or lose.  Of course, winning's more fun!  And the game in 1990 remains as my all-time favorite Penn State game experience.  If you want to learn more, click here.

Right now there is a movement afoot - on Facebook, on campus - for Penn State fans to return the respect toward Alabama fans, the coach, and the team. These efforts are getting a great deal of response and "likes" or nods of approval.  The majority of Penn State fans think this is a great idea.

There are, however, certain Penn State fans who seem to be struggling with the idea that Penn State fans should be welcoming to Alabama.  Or who are being downright insulting about this movement.

Some fans actually believe that being tough and unfriendly at Beaver Stadium has something to do with how the teams will play on the field. 

These fans argue that an appeal to give the Alabama fans and Nick Saban a standing ovation or to not "boo" when they enter the field would show weakness and too much friendliness, and make them too comfortable in Beaver Stadium. 

And of course, if a team like Alabama is too comfortable at Beaver Stadium, they are likely to win, right?

I'm sorry, but I've been to a lot of Penn State football games - 122 games in a row to be exact - and I do believe strongly in the idea of the fans being the "twelfth man" on the field.  If we make a lot of noise, it does have a huge impact. 

That is especially true if the student section is there at the BEGINNING of the game, not at the beginning of the second quarter, which unfortunately has too often been the case in the past, even for a 3:30 game. 

We certainly want to rattle the opponent during the game and especially when they are in the middle of a play. 

But that "twelfth man" idea is when the game has already started, when noise becomes a factor in the ability of the quarterback to call signals to his players or complete a play. 

And need I remind these nay-sayers on respect that Penn State lost that game last year? 

The standing ovation given to Joe Paterno and the Penn State team when they entered the field did not help the Penn State team one bit to overcome their difficulties last year. 

I doubt that quarterback Rob Bolden or the rest of the Penn State squad were any more comfortable at Bryant-Denny Stadium because the fans were friendly and respectful before the game began.

Nor will a decision not to boo the Crimson Tide help them get any better at what they do.  They will either be better than us or they won't based on how the players play and how the players are coached.

The "tough atmosphere" argument before a game begins just doesn't hold any water.

It is simply a rationalization for boorish behavior, such as turning backs or booing opposing teams.  That type of behavior doesn't add anything of value anywhere. 

My friends, welcoming the Alabama Crimson Tide with cheers rather than boos is called GOOD SPORTSMANSHIP.  It is something that is all but lost in pro football.

Let us not also lose it in college football. 

We should also respect what away team fans have to go through in order to travel to Happy Valley (or anywhere else) to support their team. 

It's not easy coming to Happy Valley.  First, they have to find a ticket - only 5,000 are made available for away team fans at Beaver Stadium, out of a total capacity of 110,000.

Then, they have to pay an enormous price for airfare and a hotel room for a minimum of three nights, if they can even find a room and a flight into this tiny town. 

If they can't find airfare or accommodations, then they have to fly to a bigger airport like Pittsburgh or Harrisburg, or drive hundreds of miles (912 miles to be exact from Tuscaloosa) and settle for an over-priced room 50-100 miles away. 

But the Crimson Tide fans will be here - in force - because Beaver Stadium is a special place, and they know it.  Plus, they will have the opportunity to watch Joe Paterno, a true icon in college football, prowl the sidelines (if he's healthy, which we all hope)!

'Bama fans who make it to Happy Valley deserve a welcoming atmosphere for their efforts in making this trip.

There is another factor this year for 'Bama, and that is the tornado that struck Tuscaloosa, Alabama on April 27th. 

Many of these Crimson Tide fans are in the process of rebuilding a community decimated by a tornado. 

Imagine, for a minute, that a tornado ripped through State College, PA. but managed to miss Beaver Stadium and the University Park campus.

That is what the students, faculty, staff and fans are facing in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  It will take a long time to rebuild that atmosphere that many of us enjoyed so much last year.

So, lets show respect AND pay it forward for the entire season to respect all college football fans.  Let's be classy in our welcome to what is called "The Greatest Show in College Football."

Here are some initiatives happening right now that you can get involved with:

If you are a Facebook fan, you can take a stand and sign up for the following "events":

Northern Hospitality:  Roll Out The Crimson Carpet - Sponsored by Penn State Pride, a Student Sportsmanship Club.  There is a whole list of activities this week promoting getting to know about Alabama and the Crimson Tide. 

Wednesday, September 7 Sign the Pledge 10am-4pm HUB
Thursday, September 8 Sportsmanship Scavenger Hunt 10am-4pm Various Locations
Friday, September 9 Meet & Greet with Alabama & Penn State Alumni 5-7pm The Adams Apple

Note: Penn State Pride pledge is as follows:

For the glory of Old State:
I pledge to foster a spirit
That empowers and educates.
I pledge to have dignity and respect
To honor those that came before
And those that will embrace
These principles in time.
I pledge that no act of mine
Will bring shame so that I may
Embody the character of Penn State.

Don't Boo Bama  - Created by Ben Jones, a Penn State student, who was also instrumental earlier this year in organizing bloggers to encourage donations to tornado relief.

Ben's original idea here was to give a standing ovation but the push back by some Penn State fans was so great that Ben has now changed it to "Don't Boo Bama".

Criticize if you may his backing off, but not booing will surely be an improvement in sportsmanship at Beaver Stadium when the team enters the field.  Especially if the student section adopts this.  There are a lot of negative comments there right now, but if you notice how many people agree with Ben, the negativity is far offset by people who are very positive about this initiative.

Also, The Family Clothesline is offering a Penn State-Alabama Tornado Relief t-shirt where the proceeds help support rebuilding of Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  Wearing that t-shirt would be one simple way to clearly welcome 'Bama fans and to help with the rebuilding.

Finally, Steve Sampsell, a College of Communications professor, posted this invitation to Alabama Crimson Tide fans:

Let us make this classic game the premium atmosphere everyone expects from the Greatest Show in College Football.

Have fun with all of this!

And for heaven's sake, despite all this talk of good sportsmanship..

Go State!  Beat 'Bama!


  1. Great post Carolyn! I truly hope our fans show respect for such a storied program and make all us die-hard Penn State fans proud! All for paying the love received last year forward!

  2. Thanks! I think the fact that PSU students are having this discussion on Facebook is a very good sign. Should be a great weekend...let's hope that the rain slows down!

  3. I would argue that giving Alabama an ovation (or at least not booing) might throw them off even more. I know a lot of athletes channel the booing into positive "let's do this" energy.

    The fans that are so upset over this "not booing nonsense" are probably the ones who show up in the 2nd quarter anyway!

    Great article by the way!

  4. Good point. Thank you for the read.

  5. Been in Paternoville all week and it has been miserable. But I am beyond excited for a front row seat to Saturday's game! I have tremendous respect for the Alabama program and its history and I hope students will be courteous enough to minimize the booing. However, I don't think it reasonable to expect excessively drunk students not to be completely rude and obnoxious. I hope I'm wrong but that's what I expect.

  6. Enjoy Paternoville. We'll be stopping by tomorrow to take photos so if you see us flag us down. Yeah, I hope you're wrong as well!

  7. Hi Carolyn, I'm back again for another season of your enjoyable articles. I truly enjoyed reading it and whole heartedly agree with your Good Sportmanship views. Right On Carolyn!!! The actions of the Bama fans to our coaches and players is phenomenal and it would behoove Penn State fans to reciprocate.

    Good Luck next week. I think the Lions will need it along with their very best efforts to win.
    Gary Saeger
    Allentown PA