Even if you’ve been covering Penn State for 40-plus years, as John Black has, you still have an opportunity to see something new.
That’s the beauty of college football, especially in Happy Valley.
Over the years, the pre-game theatrics at Beaver Stadium have intensified, much to the delight of fans. Recruits, also, have taken notice, with James Franklin bringing in highly ranked classes the last few years.
While the atmosphere for home games has always been one of the best in the country, the operations and marketing teams for football has elevated the environment at Penn State into something that is truly, to borrow a phrase, “unrivaled.”
All of this leads us back to Black, the dean of football reporters. As the 1962 Penn State graduated surveyed the scene at Beaver Stadium a few moments prior to kick-off against Rutgers in 2015, he saw something he never had before at Beaver Stadium.
That’s saying something.
Comebacks and blow-outs, amazing plays and unexplainable gaffs, spectacular shows from the Blue Band, weather delays, fans storming the field, and pretty much anything else imaginable.
But a stripe out? Nope. Never.
Meaning, on his way to writing more than 500 consecutive editions of The Football Letter, John Black scratched off another item on his seemingly empty Penn State bucket list in the first month of the 2015 season.
Black had seen a stripe out before, at Iowa in 2012, though this was the first such occurrence at Penn State — the annual game has grown to be one of the most visually striking images each football season.
Count Black among the many fans who’ve embraced the new tradition.
“It gave a very neat effect,” Black said this week, recalling the game at Iowa seven years ago. “I thought, ‘Gee, I hope Penn State does that soon,’ and they did.”
The Nittany Lion version debuted three years later, during a night kickoff against Rutgers in September. Penn State eased to a 28-3 victory with two touchdowns from Saquon Barkley, a score each from Akeel Lynch and DeAndre Thompkins; and a stout defensive showing.
Enjoying his customary view on the west side of the stadium, Black witnessed the stands fill up with coordinated fans intent on willing their Nittany Lions to victory.
“Sitting in their blue-or-white clad sections, the fans themselves were part of the first-ever Beaver Stadium Stripe Out Show, as the last sunset glow faded behind the press box,” Black described in The Football Letter.
Additional details he authored in that issue mentioned Blue Band Director Greg Drane leading the band’s pre-game routine for the first time (the previous week’s game against Buffalo featured heavy rain and the band didn’t have the opportunity to thrill fans before kickoff) and the drum major flips, along with performances from the majorettes and Lionettes.
The types of particulars that alumni and fans have read from Black since 1976. Perhaps overlooked by some, though always top-of-mind for the author of The Football Letter, who knows his audience.
“I don’t know that you would read that sort of thing in the standard commercial publications, but to me, it’s part of the whole experience and a significance part of it,” Black said. “That’s what I’m trying to convey, a special sense of the identity of Penn State alumni and their participation in the whole game day experience; have a part in it, have their presence mean something. So, to me, it’s an important thing.”