There are certain views that you’ll always remember, certain scenes and moments that once lodged into your memory, they’re not going anywhere. You can pull them up at a moment’s notice, without having thought of them in a long time, and without fail, the images are there. Right in front of you. Vividly.
ESPN’s College Game Day on Old Main Lawn, as seen from the Old Main Bell Tower, is one such scene for me.
But here’s the thing. That scene is only possible because of the success of the football team, because of passionate alumni and fans, and because of the behind-the-scenes work by hundreds of colleagues, both at Penn State and beyond.
These moments aren’t possible just anywhere. However, Happy Valley is one such place. Only last year, it wasn’t.
We’re not here to rehash what’s already been rehashed too many times. Instead, we’re here to say thanks, to show appreciation, to express gratitude, and whenever possible, to have some fun.
Attendance at each of Penn State’s first four home games this season has exceeded 105,000. The home opener against Ball State (105,323) was the highest-attended home opener for the Nittany Lions since 2008. Fans swarmed campus early in the morning when Game Day visited last month. None of this is all that surprising for one of the nation’s most storied college football programs, though all of these happenings are still worth noting.
There’s a significant difference between now and last fall (obviously), and the transformation hits on a personal level as much as it does on the entire community.
Just ask junior offensive lineman Bryce Effner. We did, in fact, Tuesday morning during a media availability.
Last season, he played in empty stadiums, though he said he knew that fans were cheering on the team from home as they watched the game on TV. This season, now he sees a campus full of students walking around in Penn State gear on Thursdays and Friday, getting ready for the game. “To actually see them” creates a feeling of community, Effner said, and that support has helped Penn State to an unbeaten mark in four home games and a No. 7 national ranking.
“It’s incredible to see all the students back,” Effner said. “The whole campus is back together, and we’re all excited for an in-person football season. I’d say it’s incredible. It’s great to have fans back.”
That frenetic energy spills over to every day, especially this week as campus and town celebrates Homecoming.
The Homecoming Executive Committee has already kicked off events, with the Allen Street Jam providing students and locals a chance to unwind Monday afternoon.
Things will really get going this weekend, as the Alumni Association hosts an ice cream social from 1-3 p.m. Friday at the Hintz Family Alumni Center, with the Alumni Association student group, Lion Ambassadors, welcoming Penn Staters to the Nittany Lion Shrine for Guard the Lion Shrine following the parade until 10 p.m.
It’s sure to be an enjoyable time, with College Avenue and the adjacent parade route packed with Penn Staters who’ll spend this weekend stopping by their favorite shops and restaurants. And, Beaver Stadium will be packed Saturday for a noon kickoff against Illinois.
Speaking of Beaver Stadium: Of course, the football program occupies a pivotal place in this whole situation, where what impacts the University simultaneously impacts the town. And where last fall, the impact was that there was no impact.
Maybe words like “responsibility” and “obligation” are too strong, because that implies a debt in some way or another, though Penn State head coach James Franklin has said before that he feels the economic weight that the football team has on the community. He referenced local businesses again today, indicating that the roar that fans provide this season reverberates beyond the field.
If it sounds like Franklin is saying this is a team effort, that’s because that’s precisely what he’s saying.
It’s a two-way partnership where each side needs the other.
“What an unbelievable opportunity it is to be the front porch of the University and allow millions of people all over the country — and really all over the world — to get a glimpse of what Penn State is all about: How our guys play on the field, how our guys present themselves to the media, (and) how are guys are successful at the next level.
We’re all in this together. I think that’s one of the things that I think last year helped us all recognize: We can’t do it without the community, the community can’t do it without us. I think that’s one of the things that makes Happy Valley so special.”
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