The Roaring 20: Penn State-Illinois

Mike Herr (Mike the Mailman) and Penn State professor and local musician Molly Countermine judged Friday night’s Homecoming Parade in State College. The parade featured dozens of Alumni Association affiliate groups, Penn State student organizations, and plenty of colorful floats. Photo credit: John Patishnock

Here are 20 insights from Homecoming Weekend in Happy Valley. Tens of thousands of alumni returned to University Park to celebrate, with numerous events leading up to Saturday’s game against Illinois, a 20-18 setback for the Nittany Lions. We’ve also embedded a few additional social media posts from the weekend, including one that features the old-school end zone design that was featured with the team’s “Generations of Greatness” uniforms.

1. Last week’s episode of Football Letter Live was an absolute blast. We welcomed Alumni Blue Band President Randy Seely ’91 and Keith Griffith ’21, both of whom participated in the band performing at Friday’s ice cream social (more on that shortly). Seely has deep Penn State connections, as his father (Wayne ’65), spouse (Judy ’86), son (Andrew ’16), and daughter (Amelia ’21) are all Penn State grads. Griffith, meanwhile, was the band’s drum major last year, which means he missed out because of COVID restrictions. So, seeing him lead the Alumni Blue Band during Friday’s ice cream social and on the field on Saturday was both meaningful and a lot of fun. Jump to the 18:45 mark of the episode to catch Seely and Griffith’s appearance.

2. In addition to speaking with Seely and Griffith about the Alumni Blue Band, we also shared an interview with Nittanyville President Matt Solomon. We stopped by Beaver Stadium on Wednesday night as students began arriving shortly after 9 p.m., with Alumni Association CEO Paul Clifford ’20g welcoming and thanking the students. You can see Clifford’s conversation with Solomon on our Twitter page or by jumping to the 10:00 mark of the episode for the intro to the video.

3. The episode also featured a long-form discussion with letterman linebacker Michael Mauti ’12, who is largely — and deservedly — credited for saving Penn State football during the 2011 and 2012 seasons. Any Penn Stater would be well served to check out the interview, and it starts around the 36:00 mark of the episode. On a personal note, Paul and I absolutely enjoyed talking with Michael, and we hope to stay in touch with him and welcome him back to Penn State anytime he wants to visit. We’ll pick up the tab. 

4. The Homecoming celebration rolled into Friday, when the Alumni Blue Band, Nittany Lion, and cheer squad stopped by the Hintz Family Alumni Center for the ever-popular ice cream social. You can see the band’s first set (27:45 mark) and second set on our Facebook page, directed by Griffith.

5. Before the social kicked off, we chatted with Carol ’08 and Mark Poblete ’07, ’20g, Homecoming Co-Chairs for the Alumni Blue Band. You can see that conversation on our Facebook page

6. Everyone was in good spirits — free Berkey Creamery ice cream will do that. Check out some photos from the social on our Facebook page.

7. We livestreamed the Homecoming Parade and set up on the corner of College and Allen. You can see the parade here, and we’re encouraging Penn Staters to let us know in the comments where you watched the parade from. 

8. As always, our student group Lion Ambassadors hosted a wonderful Guard the Lion Shrine event Friday night, continuing a long-standing tradition that wouldn’t exist without Sue Paterno. Each year, she stops by to welcome alumni and share the story of how she and some friends painted the Nittany Lion orange ahead of a Homecoming battle against Syracuse, and this year featured a must-see moment. After she spoke, Sue joined with Lion Ambassadors and alumni to sing and dance along to Sweet Caroline. We’ll stop there in describing what happened. The video tells the story better than we ever could. As we said in the post, we love and appreciate Sue and continue to wish her and her family all the best. 

9. James Franklin’s customary pregame lap didn’t feature as many fan interactions since gates didn’t open until shortly after he arrived, though fans can still check out the scene, which featured him thanking stadium personnel and welcoming Illini staff.

10. One of the highlights of the Homecoming game is seeing the Alumni Blue Band on the field. You can see part of their halftime performance and part of their postgame performance online

11. You can’t fault fans for thinking that if Sean Clifford doesn’t get hurt against Iowa, it’s entirely possible that Penn State is 7-0 and ranked No. 2 in the country, inviting the inevitable comparisons between the Nittany Lions and the top-ranked Georgia Bulldogs — the two teams that battled for the national title in 1982 — with Penn State (of course) winning the ’83 Sugar Bowl. 

12. We caught up with superstar tailgater and fan Sue Wilson and her husband, Ed, before the game. If you’ve ever seen our highlight videos, you already know Sue. Typically, the first shot of each video features the banner that she and her tailgating crew have made. They’ve become so popular that James Franklin will sometimes make it a point to say hello during team arrival. Tune into this week’s episode of Football Letter Live to see the conversation and learn more about Sue and what tailgating at Penn State means to her and her family. 

13. Even though Illinois racked up 357 rushing yards, Penn State’s defense stepped up when it counted. The Nittany Lions also forced multiple turnovers. The defense even scored a touchdown. Unfortunately, the only people who didn’t realize that were the ones who counted — the referees. Watching the replay multiple times, and the shot we got from standing behind the end zone, it was clear that the Illini running back was still upright and didn’t have forward progress stopped when the Nittany Lions forced a fumble and jumped on the football in the end zone in the first quarter. For as many bad calls as we see each week, they never become less stunning. In addition to the touchdown that wasn’t, Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford absorbed a clear late hit in the second half. But it wasn’t called. Penn State was driving and would’ve been set up for a score if the referees had made the correct call. It’s not our place to routinely comment on officiating, but at some point, it’s impossible to ignore. College football (whether you like it or not) is a billion-dollar business. Having expert referees oversee these games is essential.

14. Overtime was crazy. I know it. You know it. We all know it. Even just changing the rules to say that the teams will go toward the same end zone each possession would help. Because as it stood Saturday, players continually walked, jogged, etc. to each goal line after each possession. And considering there were nine possessions, that’s significant, especially after playing through four quarters of a grinder of a game.

15. Lucky isn’t the right word — I prefer “fortunate” — though either way, teams must avoid injuries to key players, have critical calls go in their favor (or at least avoid bad calls going against them, something which Penn State has faced all season), among other intangibles that don’t show up in a box score. Not many teams can legitimately say they’re one or two breaks away from contending for a playoff spot this year, though Penn State is one of them.

16. Speaking of which: For all the disappointment about Saturday’s game, (almost) nothing has changed for Penn State and its goals this season. If the Nittany Lions win out, it’s still entirely possible they’ll earn a trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title. They’d still need Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State to all lose one other conference game, and with all three of those teams playing one another still this season, that’s very much possible. 

17. Win or lose, the Blue Band and Nittany Lions always play and sing the alma mater. Check out Saturday’s rendition on Facebook.

18. We spoke with a few players following the game, and you can visit our 2021 Football Letter playlist on YouTube to hear from quarterback Sean Clifford, wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith, and kicking specialist Jordan Stout. 

19. There’s still time to join us in Columbus this weekend. Sign up here for the alumni mixer Friday night at the local Quaker Steak and Lube and visit our website to RSVP for Saturday’s Pep Rally. We hope to see you.

20. Go State. Beat the Buckeyes. 

For more on The Football Letter, including online archives (requires Alumni Association member log-in), click here.

Not yet an Alumni Association member? Click here.

Follow the Football Letter on Twitter for more videos, photos, and features.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s