12 days from the time I am writing this, the Blue Band will be taking the field for the first time and we will be packing up our tailgates for a few hours to watch Penn State football for the first time in almost exactly 8 months. Those 8 months have felt like four or five times that with the off-season from hell that Penn Staters have endured. But in 12 days, we can start to put at least some of that in the past, and watch the Nittany Lions just play football against the Ohio Bobcats.
I was in State College this past weekend for a close friends wedding. I love State College in the late summer, after summer classes have ended, but before the rush of students return for the fall semester. You can walk into a bar at midnight, and find a place to sit. You can catch up with friends over a drink, and not be shouting to do it. But most of all, you can walk around campus on a Saturday morning and take it all in.
I spent part of my Saturday morning doing just that. There was a noticeable quietness, especially in comparison to the tumultuous week nearly 10 months back. But there was also something else I have not felt at Penn State nearly as often recently. A buzz. I felt it when I arrived in town in 2005 for the Ohio State game. I felt it in 2008 for the Homecoming game versus Michigan that ended years of frustration. It’s that unmistakable, yet silent feeling I get in the build up to something big. Call me crazy, but that exists in State College, PA right now.
Nearly every business on College Ave. and throughout the town is proudly displaying their “Proud to Support Penn State Football” signs in their windows. Nearly everyone I passed or chatted with was proudly wearing his or her PSU Blue and White. People wanted to talk about football, and September 1st, and the next step in the healing of our community.
Yes, there is frustration, a lot of it, with what has happened in our Happy Valley since November, but starting at noon on September 1st, some normalcy returns. For at least for a few hours in Beaver Stadium we can come together and support this team. Of course there will be many differences, and at the end of the day, Penn State is playing for little more than pride. But they are also playing for this town, this school and this place.
My last stop before heading off to prepare for the day’s festivities was Beaver Stadium. I drove by the spot the infamous statue once stood. I drove by the tunnel where the blue buses will drop off the team. I pulled up along the curb there, just for a few seconds to snap a picture on my phone and I couldn’t help but smile. In 12 days, thousands of people will line that patch of pavement and cheer the players and coaches as they enter the stadium. It won’t be the Penn State football we remember, and many of us fell in love with, but it will still be Penn State football. For many Penn Staters around the world, that’s not a bad thing at all.