Monday, September 24, 2012

Penn State vs. Temple: Did the Rainbows Send A Message?

It was appropriate that my 300th Penn State football game would be against Temple.  Temple has been Penn State’s most consistent competitor, year in and year out, through the twenty-five years I have been regularly following Penn State.  And every one of those Temple games that I have witnessed has been a win. 

The NCAA would differ, but in these awkward days of describing past games that were wins but not really losses either, something called “vacated”, I know what I saw each year.  And since 2005, I have the scoreboard photos to prove it.

In fact, we haven’t lost to Temple since 1941, other than those vacated wins. Yes, Temple is an in-state rival, of sorts.  Yes, there have been some close games, including last year at Lincoln Financial Field, when Penn State barely got away with a 14-10 win.  Temple made all Penn State fans nervous when they led most of the game.  But Penn State prevailed at the end.

 Most Penn State fans of a certain age would say Pittsburgh is the more fierce rivalry, and they would be right.  Regardless, Temple has been a steady, and faithful, competitor, a school that has been willing to travel to Penn State twice for every game played at their home territory.  This was something that Pittsburgh was not willing to do, probably for good reason.   

Personally I was quite worried about this particular game. Temple has been a team on the rise the last few years, and I was afraid that this might be the year where they would in fact beat a Penn State team.

The reasons for my concerns were numerous.  Penn State had lost numerous scholarship players thanks to NCAA sanctions. There is a brand new coaching system in the first year of Bill O’Brien’s coaching tenure at Penn State.   In the first three games the defense seemed to have trouble in the second half of games. The kicking game has been problematic to say the least.  The team also has a developing offense that seems to favor a passing game rather than a struggling running game.  There were a lot of holes to exploit in Penn State’s overall system at this point in their development as a team.

I’m someone who thrives on competition.  I hate ho-hum games where the outcome is predictable.  I would rather see us play a much-improved Temple team as a non-conference game because it helps prepare us for Big Ten play than a mediocre team where I wonder after a win if the team is ready.  And we could have lost on Saturday.

So it made no sense to me that in this new era under Bill O’Brien, when a victory was in doubt, the crowd would want to stay home, unless people couldn’t stand the thought of watching a loss to Temple.  Or didn’t realize that Temple is not the same Temple we have played in years past.

The weather forecast didn’t help.  It was an ominous forecast all week, and the news broadcasts about where to go if there were thunderstorms surrounding the stadium and the game was delayed or called off didn’t give much comfort about the chances of the game being played without interruption.  

A Facebook announcement on Wednesday indicated that there were rooms available at the Nittany Lion Inn, a rarity.  Another email, this time from my college, indicated that there were last minute tickets for sale.  Cancellations were happening.

The crowd of 93,680 that arrived for this Temple game was the lowest attendance of any crowd since 1995, according to the Centre Daily Times

A game played in central Pennsylvania is one where thousands of fans travel 3-4 hours from one side of the state or the other.  So when the weather forecast is that bad, people consider whether it is worth the travel, and the expense, to drive that distance. 

I know. I remember that “Snow Bowl” in November 1995 against Michigan, when sixteen inches of snow were dumped on Centre County a few days before that game, and all parking lots were closed because there was no place to put all that snow. Despite TV pleas by Coach Joe Paterno to come to that game, only about 80,000 people attended that one.   

That was the one home game that my husband Terry and I seriously debated NOT attending in our 25 years of marriage.

We lived in Easton, PA.  Our normal routine was to get up early on Saturday morning to drive 185 miles to Beaver Stadium.  After the game, we would drive back east about 80 miles to the Pine Barn Inn in Danville, PA for a one night’s stay.  We were regular guests there and they treated us very well.  Then we would drive home to Easton on Sunday morning.

With parking lots closed it didn’t look promising that we could find a place to stash our brand new car, picked up just that week, and we certainly didn’t want to risk scratches, accidents, or other driving problems we could encounter with a car we weren’t exactly familiar with.

But Coach Joe Paterno was passionately convincing. He begged us all to come, stating that Penn State would be prepared despite the parking lot closures. 

In 1995 Terry and I were both employed professionally.  It was a rare week where both Terry and I were in town, not traveling somewhere on business to return home sometime on late Friday night. We decided that IF we could get a hotel room for two nights in State College we could both take Friday afternoon off from work, drive to State College then, and return on Sunday. 

It would be our only real weekend in State College during a football season, except for Blue White weekends, until we moved to the area in 1997. 

Sure enough, there was a cancellation at the Penn Stater hotel.  And so everything worked fine.  We caught a shuttle bus from the hotel to the game.  Penn State was very well organized and it worked very smoothly. 

The only really bad thing we had to contend with was the packed down snow under our feet.  It was darn cold.  In fact, it was one of the coldest games we have ever attended.  And we also had two extra tickets to that game.  At the selling price of $10 each, we chose to not sell and enjoy the extra space.

We won that game against Michigan 27-17.  We were glad we went through all that trouble to attend the game. 

There have been two “snow bowls” since then, but not quite as dramatic. The most recent “snow bowl” occurred last year on October 29, 2011.  There were about six inches of snow on the bleachers, with snow actively coming down on the day of the game.   According to Wikipedia, there were about 97,828 in attendance for that game. 

It was much easier for us to decide to go to this game. We have lived in Centre County since 1997, so there are no more 185-mile one-way commutes.  We drove to the Weis parking lot and took a shuttle bus to the game, deciding that we just wouldn’t mess with parking our car.

The game was against Illinois, and it was a tough 10-7 win.  It was Joe Paterno’s 409th win, before the NCAA sanctions vacated that win as well.

Had we still lived in eastern Pennsylvania, though, I don’t think we would have made the trek to either the Illinois game last year or the Temple game this year. 

We have done a lot of crazy things following Penn State football, but intentionally putting ourselves in harm’s way to drive 3.5 hours just to see a game live isn’t something we would desire to do anymore.  And lightning in a stadium full of metal is certainly harm’s way.

On the other hand, we also know that weather forecasting is the only profession where you can be well-paid for being wrong about 50% of the time.  Especially when it comes to thunderstorm activity.  We paid close attention to those forecasts and reasoned there was a good chance it would miss us.

The forecasts were calling for thunderstorms before the game, ending by about 4 p.m., one half hour after game time.  After that, the forecast was for sun. 

Sure enough, there were a lot of gray and unsettled clouds dumping either sprinkles or steady rain on us as we sat in our car waiting for them to pass.  We caught a break in the clouds and entered the stadium early, sitting under the stands at a picnic table for a while to stay out of the rain.  But the cloud formations passed quickly and there were some good stretches of no rain.  It wasn’t too bad, really.

In the stands, until about 5:30, the weather continued to be off and on rain.  But no thunderstorms were in the immediate area, and at the end of the half, the sun came out behind us, and lit up a glorious rainbow in front of us.

The defense had just made a spectacular stop.  With 1:10 left on the clock and excellent clock management by Bill O’Brien, the Penn State offense marched down the field from the Temple 35-yard line and scored a touchdown. 

However, I was so mesmerized by taking photos of the rainbow that I missed most of that drive. 

For this Temple game, the first of the Bill O’Brien era, Ryann Reynolds McIlnay and Matt McIlnay joined us.  Ryann is a former student of mine from Smeal College of Business, and is now pursuing her PhD. in Marketing from Temple University. 

You could say that at times I was her mentor, but as academia goes, someday very soon she will surpass me in knowledge.  That is, if she survives the grueling course of study she is engaged in now! 

Ryann’s husband Matt, also a Smeal College of Business graduate, works in finance for the candy company Just Born, famous for Peeps, Mike and Ike, and Peanut Chews. 
Jealous, anyone?  He’s fun to talk with about some of my favorite candies.

In any case, I was impressed that they didn’t cancel due to the weather, and that they showed up at our house two hours before we were planning to leave for the game and came prepared with rain gear.  They are our type of fans.  Dedicated.

I was also impressed that Ryann, the current Temple PhD. candidate, wore Penn State gear.  No compromise at all!  She did fill me in on a piece of trivia, though, as to why Temple’s mascot is an owl.  It started as a night school, and so the owl was symbolic of people who study at night.

As for the game itself, there’s not much I can add at this point to the game discussion.  We felt overall that the team has improved since the Ohio game.  The offense in particular is showing signs of more balance in its passing attack and its ability to run the ball.  They have been fun to watch.

The Matt McGloin –Allen Robinson passing combo has become particularly fine-tuned, and the use of different tight ends is destined to confuse defenses. 

Michael Zordich and Zach Zwinak (Z&ZZ?) proved to be tough running backs and gained significant yards. In the game against Temple, for the first time this season, there were actually more running plays than passing plays. 

As for the kicking game, progress appears to be a matter of taking small steps rather than giant leaps all at once towards a larger goal. 

We were glad to see Sam Ficken the kicker make all of his extra points and score a field goal from the Temple 21-yard line.  It also appears he has improved on kicking balls into the end zone when the coaches call for it.

Unlike the last two weeks, our defense didn’t create any turnovers.  But they held Temple when it mattered.   

We can’t afford to accumulate 100 yards in penalties in the Big Ten, some of which appeared to us to be questionable calls. 

With the score showing 24-6 in favor of Penn State, a failed fourth down conversion attempt by Temple with 13:19 left until the end of the game turned the ball over to Penn State.  

 Another rainbow appeared in the sky at that point, and the game outcome felt very comfortable. 

Temple did score another touchdown, to make the score 24-13, with 1:33 remaining. But there was not enough time for them to come back.

Loved those rainbows!  Perhaps there is a message there somewhere as to how this season will turn out.


  1. I wondered if it was JoePa looking down on Beaver Stadium with a smile on his face :)

    1. Actually I thought God was sending a message to the crowd that despite all the bad calls by refs in that game, things would be okay. :)

  2. Move on. Penn State is much more than football. I have not missed a game since 1991. I have never even looked at who comes. A football game is simply a football game. This team is gutsy and fun to watch. Look at the positives. A team competing as a team. These guys want to be there. Those who left will regret in time. Convictions much more important than winning

    1. Yes they are gutsy and fun to watch. And I think Bill O'Brien is doing a remarkable job right now as head coach. Your attendance streak is impressive. Glad you support this team.