Friday, November 6, 2009

College Football Road Trip Extravaganza Round Three: Happy Valley

Loyal readers, welcome back for the third and final installment of my 2009 College Football Road Trip Extravaganza. It's been a tiresome, arduous, but ultimately memorable three-week stretch, and I sure hope you have vicariously enjoyed the ride. I have driven through six states (CT, MA, NY, PA, OH, MI) and set foot in two others (IL, NC). I have logged just under two thousand five hundred miles onto my car's odometer, and put several, uh, "miles" on my liver as well. I have reveled in the passion and pageantry of college football with over two hundred and fifty thousand other spectators (on aggregate), and I have single-handedly injected enough money into the American economy via gas purchases to end the current financial crisis. And why did I do it? In a desperate attempt to make up for time and experiences lost by not attending an institution with big time college football -- what I was thinking, I will never know -- I have taken it upon myself to be a part of a world that passed me by. Ergo, I have delved deep into the heart of Big Ten country for the last fortnight and a half and sought to do as the locals do. It has been an experience that has further fueled my fiery fixation with the world of college football -- and all sports for that matter -- by reinforcing what I already knew and loved, but not without throwing me a few curveballs along the way.

So what's on tap for this week? Ohio State at Penn State, a match-up of Big Ten heavyweights and perennial contenders,
each vying for a potential conference championship. Ohio State controls its own destiny for a conference crown, whereas Penn State needs to win-out and have Iowa lose two of its final three games (more on this later). The plan for the weekend is to meet up with my friends Ben, Beth and Lisa in State College, PA. In what will surely be a treat for you, the reader, Ben and I will be enjoying the warm and welcome hospitality of none other than Ragin' Rubin himself! Please contain your excitement to the best of your abilities. So, that said, prepare yourselves for one final account of football, friendship, and the stunning power of a Worst State Ever T-shirt. Let it begin!

Trip #3: Ohio State at Penn State - State College, PA

Friday - 4:00 AM: Is there anything worse than the shrill sound of an alarm clock? No, no there is not. Oh wait, yes there is: the shrill sound of an alarm clock at four in the morning. Ugh. I begrudgingly peel myself from the cozy confines of my bed and depart for work. For the next seven hours, I am 51% awake -- no more, no less.

Friday - 4:40 AM-11:30 AM: Staring at the clock like a child on the last day of school. I think I'm excited, but I'm far too tired to tell.

Friday - 11:39 AM: After zombie-ing my way through my shift, I return to my apartment to pack and take care of the final pre-trip odds and ends, among which is a homework assignment or two. But seeing as how I want to get to State College as early as possible and utilize as much of the daylight as time will allow, I convince myself that I can work on said assignments after I get to Rubin's. I'm going to give you a hint: this does not end well (academically speaking).

Six hours of sports talk radio, ESPN podcasts, and some rather "upbeat" music -- which helps keep me awake during long, boring drives (that I'm not exactly proud to have on my iPod) -- later, I arrive in State College. Don't judge me.

Friday - 8:11 PM: Arriving at Rubin's apartment, where after a rather underwhelming reception of obscenities and insincere greetings, I simultaneously initiate drinking as well as a feeble attempt to do my homework. One of these activities continued, one did not. Do the math.

Friday - 8:37 PM: While perusing the web, Rubin discovers and announces that the Broncos have just signed former Patriots great, Ty Law (who has forever enshrined himself in New England lore for his interception returned for a touchdown against Kurt Warner's Rams in the 2001 Super Bowl). This leads to the following exchange.

Rubin: "Ty Law is going to the Broncos."
Me: "Ty Law is still alive?"

I kid, I kid. Good for Ty Law. I do have to give credit to the Broncos though. Any time you get a chance to sign a 35-year-old washed up defensive back with no speed who hasn't played or practiced in nine months, you've got to do it.

Friday - 9:01 PM: Watching the Cavs game while my pile of homework silently mocks me from across the room. I'm surprisingly and increasingly OK with this. The entire time, I am wholly and utterly flabbergasted at how immense Shaq has become. I mean, he has always been big, but he is gargantuan. I can't discern whether I'm watching an NBA game or some bizarre mix of Space Jam and Big Momma's House. I then realize that Shaq's enormity has grown more prodigious virtually every time that I have laid eyes upon him. It's uncanny. This phenomenon shall hereby and forever be known as The Vince Wilfork Effect. In fact, let's take a further look into this phenomenon, following the arc of Shaq's illustrious career.

1). LSU Shaq
2). Orlando Magic Shaq: "Deisel"
3). Kazaam Shaq
4). Los Angeles Lakers Shaq: "The Big Aristotle"
5). Miami Heat Shaq: "Shaq Daddy"
6). Phoenix Suns Shaq: "The Big Shaqtus"

And finally...

8). Cleveland Cavaliers Shaq: "Sha-Cleveland O'Neal"

Just kidding. But he's still a monstrous mountain of a man, as seen here, in which he bears an eerie resemblance to Albert Haynesworth (another prime candidate for the Vince Wilfork Effect as his career progresses - stay tuned). This photo surely had to be taken with a wide angle lens. Ba-Zing! Thanks, I'm here all week. Note: LeBron James isn't exactly a little dude, and Shaq absolutely dwarfs him, making 'Bron look like a scrawny teenager. Anyways, sorry for that random tangent. Had to get that off my chest. Umm, what was I talking about again?

The remainder of this night can be summed up accordingly. After the arrival of Ben -- in which he once again made us wonder whether he had been claimed by the dark, lonesome Pennsylvania night -- we three classy gents set out to get a taste of the State College bar scene. Hilarity and debauchery ensued, but not in the droves seen in the previous trips, so I will not bore you with the needless details. I do have one observation though: whatever genius came up with the idea for what I like to call "cavalry-cops" (policemen on horses) did not factor the smell into the equation. Mother of God. The entire College Ave downtown strip smelled like cross between a farm and a port-o-potty. Not exactly ideal conditions for drunkenly stumbling about. But, I digress.


Saturday - 8:00 AM: After far too little sleep, I once again hear the all too familiar sound of my cell phone alarm. Please, no. I actually went to bed with the absurd intention of waking up early to work on my homework. No, seriously. I crack myself up sometimes.

Saturday - 8:21 AM: Getting an early start, Ben, Rubin, and I set out to bask in the glory of one of the best tailgating scenes that the world of college football has to offer.

Saturday - 9:15 AM: We meet up with Beth and Lisa at Dunkin' Donuts, where Beth brings me the single greatest gift I have ever received: my very own Worst State Ever T-Shirt. Words cannot describe the endless joy this brings me. I then proceed to wolf down an egg and bacon croissant in approximately 0.03 seconds.

It is difficult to express the extent of the reactions my shirt elicited from the general Happy Valley populous on this chilly November morning/afternoon. First of all, as expected, it was a HUGE hit with the Penn State fans. While they do not harbor a Michigan-like hatred for the Buckeyes of Ohio State, they still regard them with complete and utter disdain. Also, anyone who has lived in PA for any amount of time has surely had to endure the mind-numbing waste of precious lifetime that is driving through Ohio. Therefore, it was to no surprise that I received such rave reviews from Nittany Nation. I experienced the full spectrum of complimentary laurels: a casual passing chuckle, a "Hey man check out that dude's shirt!", a wink from a comely coed, and even photographs with entire families (I predict that I will be on at least four Pennsylvania-area Christmas cards this winter). Nittany Lions fans were flocking to me to by the hoards to shake my hand and personally praise my sartorial savvy. Even Penn State fans who were born and raised in Ohio verbalized reactions along the lines of, "Hey, I'm from Ohio! And ... hell, who am I kidding? Yeah, you're right. Good shirt."

But this assault of accolades did not emanate solely from the PSU fans. My attire elicited analogous responses from Ohio State fans. There were packs of quarreling opposing fans who would stop their bickering and join together to compliment my shirt. Who knew that mutual hatred of the state of Ohio was such an effective mediator? Perhaps the greatest moment of all was when an Ohio State fan -- a gentleman who hailed from the state and attended the university, a Buckeye through and through -- asked if I could take a picture with him next to the Joe Paterno statue. Right after his unforeseen request, I promptly surveyed the immediate area and then -- upon finding no empirical evidence of airborne pigs -- acquiesced to his request. It was truly a sight to behold.

Saturday - 2:30 PM: Throughout the afternoon, we had been monitoring the progress of the Iowa/Northwestern game at various tailgates that had TVs set up. Actually, let me rephrase - the [expletive deleted]-ing Iowa/Northwestern game. Anyone who has indulged in part two of my College Football Extravaganza understands the roots of this hatred for Iowa. Nevertheless, remember the aforementioned scenario in which Penn State could claim the Big Ten title? The Nittany Lions would have to win their remaining games, while the dreaded Hawkeyes would have to lose two of their final three games (Northwestern, at Ohio State, at Minnesota). A far fetched scenario perhaps, but this Iowa team has been playing with fire all year long and is bound to get its comeuppance sooner or later, right? Well at this time, Iowa -- an overwhelming favorite -- is losing in the fourth quarter to the upstart Wildcats! I knew this Northwestern team showed me something last week! At first, word of this development trickles through the tailgates, and then spreads like wildfire throughout Happy Valley, infusing an unexpected electricity into the air. Iowa is losing? Wait, we have a shot? This day of college football just got a whole lot more interesting.

Saturday - 2:45 PM: Ben and Rubin depart to a bar to watch the game while Beth and I peel ourselves away from a tailgate television at the last possible moment to make our way inside Beaver Stadium. We leave the game with Northwestern leading (!!!) by seven with just over five minutes remaining. Everywhere you look, PSU fans are frantically checking their cell phones for updates. Is Northwestern going to pull this one out? Iowa can't pull off another fourth quarter escape, can they? I am among the many glued to their cell phones, my updates coming in the form of texts from a deliriously apprehensive Ragin 'Rubin. They were as follows:

2:48 - NU just needs to kill five minutes.
2:51 - If NU can manage a FG this thing is over.
2:52 - Iowa has only one time out with 2:22 left. If NU can convert a 3rd and 6 it's pretty much game.
2:56 - Holy [expletive deleted]. Two minutes left. Iowa ball on their own 18. Here we go again. NU just dropped a pick.
2:57 - This is epic. 4th and 2. Please make a stop.
3:00 - They converted. Bad times...
3:00 - 4th and 10. This has to be a stop.
3:01 - NU made the stop!
3:01 - NU wins 17-10!

At this moment, PSU supporters are beside themselves. Fans are sprinting through the mass of humanity surrounding Beaver Stadium proclaiming "Iowa lost! Iowa lost! [expletive deleted]-ing Iowa lost!". An already big game in Happy Valley just became momentous -- just like the preseason hype it was receiving in August, when it was widely thought that this game (PSU/OSU) would decide the Big Ten Championship. The pregame air now rife with euphoria and delirium, Beth and I take our seats inside Beaver Stadium.

Saturday - 3:21 PM: The in-stadium loudspeaker announces the news. Northwestern 17, Iowa 10. The partisan crows erupts with a roar so loud you can actually feel the physicality of the noise. Pure bedlam. It sends chills down my spine. This is what college football is all about.

Saturday - 3:29 PM: I explain to the inebriated gentleman standing next to me (who shrewdly smuggled beer into the stadium via the hood of his sweatshirt) the events of the NU/Iowa game and how they affect PSU. After approximately seven renditions, each put in slightly simpler terms than the last, I think he gets it. Then he asks me, "Wait ... (hiccup) ... did them Hawkeyes play today?". Hmm, guess not. Oh well.

Saturday - 3:30 PM: Gametime gametime
gametime gametime gametime gametime.

After a three hour buzzkill in the form of nonstop disappointment, putrid offense, bad play-calling, and generally ugly football, the final score of an entirely underwhelming game stands at Ohio State 24, Penn State 7. Bummer.

Saturday - 6:45 PM: Completely flummoxed by how poorly Penn State played.
Anyone with a modicum of college football knowledge undoubtedly felt that the entire team would have been instilled with a newfound sense of confidence and purpose after Iowa's stunning upset. If the players were half as amped up about Iowa's defeat as the fans were, they would have come out of the gates like bats out of hell. Plus, with Joe Paterno in the locker room to plant the pregame motivational seeds and a Beaver Stadium crowd just aching to explode at every possible opportunity, the stars had aligned to the Nittany Lions to take their Big Ten destiny into their own hands. Instead, PSU came out completely flat and played four quarters of woefully uninspired football. The vaunted Spread HD offense was painfully anemic and their previously number one ranked scoring defense was picked apart by the enigmatic Terrelle Pryor -- who had looked average at best so far this season. Shows what I know. This sport never fails to make me feel like a moron.

After the game, there was another brief bar excursion, but the night was cut short so I could get to bed early and rest up for the impending drive home. There was an unmistakable air of despondency throughout all of State College, and it didn't make for a very lively downtown atmosphere (at one point, I actually fell asleep face down at the table of a Mexican bar/restaurant -- yay college), so I didn't miss out on much.

Sunday - 10:00 AM: I wake up and complete my usual routine of perusing for any newsworthy morning headlines. I end up reading the recap of the NU/Iowa game and discover what I find to be a very interesting quote. Here is a caption from the article, quote included:

"Iowa's top goal is off the table, but a Big Ten title remains within reach, and linebacker Pat Angerer tried to keep things in perspective.

" 'It hurts, but we've got two games left,' Angerer said. 'Worse things could happen. We're not at war. We live in a good country, we're going to school for free, we're living the American dream. We lost a football game. It's pretty small when you think of the big picture.' "

Kudos to Angerer, as it's refreshing to find an elite-level athlete capable of placing one's deeds on the gridiron into proper perspective.

Sunday - 11:04 AM:
Before hitting the road, Ben, Rubin, KariAnn (Rubin's fiancee), and I stop for breakfast at the Waffle Shop, a Penn State staple.

Sunday - 11:30 AM: Such. A. Long. Line.

Sunday - 11:41 AM: A strapping gentleman in Penn State Football garb joins the group in line in front of us. At the time, I think nothing of this.

Sunday - 11:42 AM: Wait, is that Sean Lee?

Sunday - 11:43 AM: No, that can't be Sean Lee.

Sunday - 11:44 AM: Holy crap I think that's Sean Lee.

Sunday - 11:47: (After confirmation from my spies within the Waffle Shop) Yes, we are in fact standing five feet away from Sean Lee. For those of you who do not know, Sean Lee is Penn State's star linebacker. He has battled injuries throughout his stint in State College, but is finally enjoying a healthy season and projects to be a second or third round pick in the upcoming NFL draft. I now proceed to go through a furious internal dilemma in which I debate whether or not it would be a breach of fan etiquette to approach him and ask for a picture. I don't want to be that guy, do I? Ugh. This goes on for slightly less than one hour.

Sunday - 12:39 PM: After an incredibly unflattering showing of ambivalence and cowardice, I finally work up the moxie to approach him and timidly ask if I can take a picture with him. That right ladies and gentlemen, I am that guy -- the one who interrupts a stranger during his breakfast and asks for a picture. Thankfully, Mr. Lee didn't mind putting his Belgian waffle on hold for a brief moment in order to make my day. In the end, he was wonderfully polite and accommodating, proving to be more than happy to provide me with the picture that I sought. Great kid. Take a gander at the adjacent picture if you ever wondered what elite/professional level athletes look like when placed next to normal people (I am playing the role of the normal person). I think I need to hit the gym.

Sunday - 1:30 PM: Farewell, State college. Until next time...

Traffic. Nothing but traffic.

Sunday - 10:22 PM: After a miserable drive home -- I abhor traffic with every fiber of my being -- my lifelessly exhausted shell of a body is finally home. I could probably sleep straight through the week and wake up fully rested just in time for the ensuing college football Saturday. In fact, that doesn't sound like a bad idea.

Saturday - 10:42 PM: My three-week stretch of college football road trips now but a memory, I go to bed and prepare for another week of 4:00 AM wake-ups. It's been fun, now back to reality.

For those of you who were unfamiliar with the glory and grandeur of college football, I hope these retro-diaries have opened your eyes to one of the most magical gifts that the world of sports has to offer. Passionate fans, breathtaking venues, and enough tradition/history to rival most encyclopedias - college football is a feast for your fandom (I may have just made that word up). Do yourselves a favor and take one of these trips. There are many destinations that have yet to be crossed off my list -- Notre Dame Stadium,
The Rose Bowl, Lane Stadium, Autzen Stadium, The Swamp, Jordan-Hare Stadium, Kyle Field, Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night, and West Point on the second weekend of October, just to name a few -- any of which would make lovely locales to wet one's college football whistle. Maybe you'll even see me there, as I plan on making my yearly college football rounds as long as time will allow. Life is too short not to properly experience and appreciate the seasonal splendor that is college football, if only just once.

But in the meantime, I look forward to spending the impending Saturday enjoying this glorious pastime from the quaint, peaceful confines of my apartment -- beer and remote in hand. And for this travel weary blogger, there is no place I would rather be. God I love college football.

A final a word to the wise: if planning multiple college football excursions, consider spacing them out a little. Trust me.

Until next time, stay tuned and stay classy.

Penn State vs Ohio State Weekend Slide Show


  1. Did you ever end up submitting that assignment? And if so, what grade did you receive? I have to know these things.

  2. Oh, and you need to send me the picture of KeriAnn with Sean Lee. And I definitely should've sacked up and had my picture taken with him too. I'm definitely regretting my decision to continue on with my omelet.

  3. Haha that assignment was never submitted. I'll let you figure out the grade for yourself.