The Roaring 20: Penn State-Michigan

The Penn State Cheerleaders joined in the celebration after Penn State scored on a Tyler Warren touchdown catch and Jahan Dotson 2-point conversion reception to tie the game at 14 in the fourth quarter against Michigan. The Wolverines notched a late touchdown to escape with a 21-17 win. Photo credit: John Patishnock

Check out this week’s Roaring 20 to see, hear, and feel what it was like to be at Beaver Stadium on Saturday afternoon for the Big Ten clash against Michigan. We’ve also embedded a few extra videos and photos for you.

1. On a defense full of superstars, Arnold Ebiketie might be the most valuable. If he’s not at the top of the list, he’s definitely in the top two or three. He not only makes plays, he also makes them at the most clutch moments. His sack and forced fumble on Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara late in the fourth quarter put Penn State in a position to seize a 17-14 lead.

James Franklin leads the Nittany Lions onto the field at Beaver Stadium. You can see the entire sequence on our Twitter page. Photo credit: John Patishnock

2. Linebacker Ellis Brooks tallied a career-high 16 tackles Saturday, boosting his team-leading season mark to 85. Brooks also led the Nittany Lions last season with 60 stops during the shortened schedule.

3. Tyler Warren’s touchdown catch in the fourth quarter was clutch and came with Michigan defensive back DJ Turner’s left hand around his waist. Not sure if it was interference (no penalty was called), though either way, that might’ve been Sean Clifford’s best throw of the day into tight coverage. And credit Warren, a freshman tight end, for stepping up when needed.

4. After the game, we spoke with Ebiketie and Warren. You can see both videos on our 2021 YouTube playlist.

“Don’t drop the Lion!” The Nittany Lion jumped into the stands for some afternoon crowd surfing. Students were happy to pass the Lion — and he wasn’t dropped. Photo credit: John Patishnock

5. Senior receiver Jahan Dotson shows up to play every single week. It’s impossible (and a little silly) to try and compare players from different eras, though two players who jump to mind when thinking of Dotson are both Bobby Engram and Deon Butler. More on Butler shortly.

6. Speaking of Dotson, the team’s sports information director, Greg Kincaid, shared this impressive stat today: Dotson is the only Big Ten player ever to have at least 80 receptions, 990 yards and 9 touchdowns in the first 10 games of a season. Like we said, he shows up every single week.

7. It was nice to see all-time great Paul Posluszny back in Happy Valley to serve as honorary captain. It had been years since he’d visited Happy Valley, and as he shared earlier this fall on Football Letter Live, the wait had been too long. You can see Posluszny’s appearance on our playlist and a photo of him with James Franklin on the football team’s Twitter page.

8. Anthony “Spice” Adams, Deon Butler, and Daryll Clark were among the turnout of former players at Beaver Stadium on Saturday. You can see photos of Adams and Butler and Butler and Clark on our Twitter page.

9. We chatted with Butler for a minute or two, and he and Clark were genuinely thrilled to be reunited. Butler said he met Jahan Dotson earlier in the week and that he hoped to speak with him after the game. Earlier in the month against Maryland, Dotson broke Butler’s program record for most receiving yards in a single game (242), besting Butler’s mark (216) against Northwestern in 2006. Butler spoke to the crowd and led a “We Are” cheer. You can see the on-field scene on our Twitter page.

10. In addition to all the lettermen mentioned, we also saw Michael Mauti and Mark Rubin, both guests this season on Football Letter Live. Similar to Butler, we briefly spoke with Rubin as he was taking in the action behind the south end zone. He’s a fan favorite whose appearance this season was popular among our audience. Again, here’s the link for all the season’s episodes. Mauti, meanwhile, watched the team entrance right by the goal post at the south end zone. He said it was the best seat in the house and that he’s never seen the Nittany Lions take the field from that angle. Glad he had that opportunity Saturday.

11. One more letterman note: Chafie Fields joined us for last week’s episode of Football Letter Live. You’ll want to check it out to hear stories of what it was like playing for Joe Paterno. Fields even shares his JoePa impressions. Here’s the link for the episode, which also features Hampton Raods (Va.) Chapter Vice President Jackie Eury and Secretary Tom Forrest.

12. Keyvone Lee finished with one of the best performances by a running back this season. The sophomore from St. Petersburg, Florida, totaled 88 yards on 20 carries.

13. We captured the usual game day sights at Beaver Stadium. Visit our social channels to see the Blue Band’s pregame performance, the Nittany Lion looking cool, the alma mater, and the team entrance in slow motion.

14. When leaving the stadium, I sometimes exit out of the south tunnel doors, which I did Saturday. That’s where the players exit, and there’s usually a crowd of fans and youngsters waiting for autographs. So, every time that door handle clicks, everyone gears up with excitement to see who’s leaving. When they saw me exiting Saturday, there was an instant look of disappoint. Really can’t blame them. I’ll have to write myself a note that says to leave another way.

Very few stadiums in the world compare to Beaver Stadium and the incredible attendance numbers we have. Saturday was the latest example. Photo credit: John Patishnock

15. There’s a group of 20- and 30-somethings that park across from me in my spot, in the lot across the road from the soccer practice field. I usually arrive early — anywhere from three to four hours before kickoff — and without exception, they’re always there before me and stay after. We finally chatted for the first time a few weeks ago. And we talked against yesterday. They were nice enough to offer me some coffee and food. I politely declined (I don’t drink coffee), though I totally understand how friendships are formed and last for years or decades between people who didn’t know each other before being tailgating neighbors.

16. Each week, we ask Penn Staters to share something about their fan experience that we feature on Football Letter Live. This week, we’re asking you to share photos of your Penn State fan caves and memorabilia collections. Visit our Facebook page to be included on the show.

17. With two games left in the regular season, it’s fair to say this year hasn’t gone the way coaches and players wanted. But the Nittany Lions will stay play in a bowl game. And more immediate, the team will celebrate Senior Day and Military Appreciation Day on Saturday. Kickoff is set for noon against Rutgers.

18. Following the home tilt against Rutgers, Penn State travels to East Lansing to finish the regular season against Michigan State. The Spartans have had a much better season than anyone could’ve predicted — we doubt even their fans felt like this year’s squad would’ve been ranked in the Top 4 of the College Football Playoff rankings. But it’ll be a legitimate challenge for Penn State.

The Blue Band always transforms game day at Beaver Stadium into a memorable experience. One of their several performances includes their pregame rendition of fight songs, pictured here. Photo credit: John Patishnock

19. If you’re heading to the game at East Lansing, we hope to see you at our game day pep rally. There won’t be an alumni mixer Friday night, so you can get some extra rest for Saturday.  

20. Go State. Beat Rutgers.



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Ultimate Competitor

Safety Ji’Ayir Brown called sophomore cornerback Joey Porter Jr. (9) “the ultimate competitor.” Porter ranks fourth on the team in tackles (40) and has broken up four passes this season. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

A little more than midway through the third quarter of Penn State’s clash with Ohio State last month, the Buckeyes were driving. Deep. In fact, they were only about a yard or so away from a touchdown, with the score tied at 17.

The Nittany Lions stuffed a couple runs. Then, quarterback C.J. Stroud threw to wideout Garrett Wilson, who was matched up 1-on-1 against Penn State sophomore cornerback Joey Porter, Jr. In a goal-line situation, Porter didn’t have any help. It was just him against Wilson, the guy in front of him.

Porter broke up the pass, tangling with Wilson in midair to knock the ball away. After the play, Porter jumped up and shook his head. Not in a cocky way. More confident, sure of himself. Essentially, he was saying, “You’re not going to beat me 1-on-1.”

Ohio State settled for a field goal.

This is just one example of how Porter embraces the times when he doesn’t have help in coverage.

“I love those moments,” Porter said. “Those moments are for a corner to really show what he’s about, really put it on for your team, especially when you know the play is coming to you. One-on-one, there’s nothing you can do about it but defend it. I like stepping up to the challenge, I like those 1-on-1 matchups. You really get to see who’s better, me or him. I enjoy that.”

Porter ranks seventh on the team in tackles (40) and has broken up four passes while pulling in an interception. He also recovered a fumble and returned it for a touchdown against Auburn, though the play was called back because of a penalty. Following the game in Columbus, we recorded his postgame media availability, and you can see that on our YouTube page.

“Joey Porter, he’s the ultimate competitor,” safety Ji’Ayir Brown said. “He might be the most competitive guy on the defense. Joey, he loves to compete. He loves the 1-on-1 matchups you get. He loves going against the best. It’s a blessing to have a corner like him to be able to watch him play and watch him do the things he does very well.”

Against Maryland last Saturday, Porter recorded five tackles, one of six Nittany Lions to tally five or more. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

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D.C. Chapter Connection ‘Best Thing’ About Postgrad Move

Metro Washington, D.C. Chapter President Meghan Maffey ’17 greeted a packed room of Penn Staters in downtown D.C. this evening, with thousands of alumni and friends traveling to Maryland for the Nittany Lions’ showdown with the Terrapins on Saturday afternoon. Maffey said the mixer “is a great opportunity to bring us all together. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

So, it’s a funny story.

This is how Meghan Maffey began explaining how she became a Penn Stater. It wasn’t always a lock. It just feels that way now.

Maffey grew up in New Jersey, and she doesn’t like the cold. Don’t worry Meghan, you’re not alone there. Though after visiting the University Park campus in May, when it was still snowing — yes, that happens in State College sometimes in the spring — she was hooked. Specifically, she was wowed with the history of the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, the knowledge of the faculty and staff of the college, and the overall atmosphere of being on campus.

Going in, she didn’t think Penn State stood a chance. But soon, Happy Valley became the runaway favorite.

“We got in the car after the tour and I looked at my mom and said, “I’m going here.”

Fast forward to Friday night, when Maffey, a 2017 Penn State grad and communications major, greeted more than a hundred alumni and friends to downtown Washington, D.C. That’s part of her role as president of the Alumni Association’s Metro Washington, D.C. Chapter, a position she relishes considering how big of an impact Penn State’s had on her life.

“There are so many Penn Staters that are in this area,” Maffey said. “It just is a really great opportunity to bring us all together and really just shows everybody that Penn State shows up and that we are here and we are proud to be here.”

Penn State Alumni Association President Anand Ganjam ’15 (far right) joined with alumni who were thrilled to see the Penn State Cheerleaders and Nittany Lion at the Friday night mixer in downtown D.C. Photo credit: Steve Manuel.

Maffey immediately became involved with the Washington, D.C. Chapter after graduating. Initially, she helped with the chapter’s THON support, starting as the fundraising lead before becoming the communications chair. Then within the last year, she became president.

The crowd she greeted was diverse: recent alumni, Penn Staters of different generations and backgrounds. That’s not entirely surprising, considering Maffey correctly points out that there are a lot of Penn Staters in the D.C. area. There are nearly 25,000 Penn Staters living in Maryland, and tens of thousands more in neighboring states, still not counting Pennsylvania.

You can see an archived version of tonight’s program featuring the Penn State Cheerleaders and Nittany Lions on our Facebook page. You can view a slightly different angle of the Nittany Lion’s entrance and cowbell performance. The latter is available on our Twitter page.

Going back to Maffey, there’s a lot of substance behind her story. Her previous career stops include interning in the Washington National’s brand marketing department and National Geographic’s production and post-production management. Currently, she works for a recruiting and employment staffing agency in the area. Having a healthy Penn State network has helped her professionally. With the Nationals, Maffey’s supervisor was a Penn Stater. Same for her hiring manager with National Geographic.

She said Penn Staters love taking care of Penn Staters. Maffey would know. The transition period after graduating can be uncertain, uncomfortable, and perhaps even a little rocky. That’s perhaps to be expected. Thanks to the support Maffey received from fellow alumni, there were smooth spots to even things out.

Now, she’s in a position to give back as someone who’s both successful and familiar with the area. Now, Maffey fits right in.

“I didn’t know anybody down here, and the best thing I got out of moving to Washington D.C. is being part of the chapter,” Maffey said. “I’ve made connections, I have gotten jobs from being a part of the Alumni Association. It’s just a great experience, and I’m so happy and so thankful to be president of the chapter.”

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Building Momentum

Managing emotions plays a key role anytime the Nittany Lions travel, like they did last weekend to Columbus. Penn State hits the road again this week, with a 3:30 p.m. kickoff Saturday against Maryland. Photo credit: Steve Tressler.

James Franklin remembers how things used to be.

The day before a game, players and coaches would quiet down, tighten up, and get emotionally juiced 24 hours before kickoff. The idea being that you needed to be laser-focused that far ahead in advance.

This is going back to Franklin’s days playing high school football, and college ball at East Stroudsburg, and even as recently when he first became a college head coach.

Times have since changed.

Through talking with people and looking at studies, Franklin said this approach has shifted over the last 10-15 years.

“You don’t need ’em locked in mentally and emotionally and physically that long before the game, where there’s no talking on the bus ride to Maryland, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” Franklin said Tuesday afternoon during his weekly press conference. “So, what we do is we build up. You should be able to feel a difference. Say you got a Friday dinner and you’re playing a Saturday night game like we had last week — the Friday night dinner should still be focused, but guys should be enjoying themselves with their positions and going through their test and tip sheets.”

Onward State photographer Mira DiBattiste captured the scene at Ohio Stadium as Penn State football arrived.

That evolution continues the next morning, with Franklin saying team breakfast should feel different than dinner, with the intensity naturally increasing up until when the team leaves the hotel, when Franklin says the team should be totally locked in on the bus ride over to the stadium.

The speed at which the intensity rises can change depending on kickoff time. At Wisconsin, for example, kickoff was at 11 a.m. local time. That’s a difference of eight-and-a-half hours from Saturday in Columbus. Think of it this way: You act differently if you’re flying out at 6 a.m. the next morning, then if your flight leaves in the afternoon or evening.

“I’m focused and not doing too much and staying calm,” offensive lineman Rasheed Walker said of his night-time routine before a game, which includes studying the aforementioned test and tips sheet. “When I wake up the day of the game, I wake up and I’m tuned in.”

Something that James Franklin emphasizes is consistency in all areas of his program, including pregame preparation on the road. Photo credit: John Patishnock

Of course, there’s a human element at play. Looks can sometimes be deceiving, and reality may not match up with perception. It’s why they play the games, as the saying goes, which is one major reason why college football is beloved on a level rarely seen in other areas of society, at least across the entire country.

This juxtaposition can also be bewildering for coaches in charge of leading their teams onto the field. Franklin recalls speaking with fellow coaches in his profession, both new to the game and more experienced, when they’ve seen their teams appear to be too loose leading up to a game, and then the players go out and play their tails off (Franklin’s words). The exact opposite can be just as true, Penn State’s head coach said.

So, for a guy who’s a big believer in routine, what’s there to do? Stick to a familiar approach, prepare the same way, and account for the unexpected as much as possible.

“It’s kind of hard to read and there’s so many different factors that kind of go into that,” Franklin said. “That’s why we try to keep our process as consistent as we possibly can.”

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Staying Involved

Journey Brown (right) talked with teammate Noah Cain on Wednesday afternoon at the Lasch practice fields. Although a medical retirement ended his playing days, Brown still regularly attends practice and continues his academic studies. Photo credit: John Patishnock

Scanning the Lasch practice fields Wednesday afternoon, somebody stood out.

It wasn’t because of a laser throw, or an acrobatic catch, or even a lightning-quick burst on either side of the ball. In fact, the guy wasn’t even in pads. He was wearing sweats. Still, what he was doing was impressive. Mainly, continuing to be a leader and supportive presence for his teammates.

Running back Journey Brown had one of the most legendary bowl performances in Penn State history in the Nittany Lions’ largely entertaining 53-39 victory over Memphis in the 2019 Cotton Bowl. He broke tackles, bowled over defenders, and provided plenty of clutch plays during a game that seesawed throughout.

The performance was incredible. It also marked the last time Brown will ever play competitive football again.

In November 2020, Brown announced a medical retirement from football due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition which thickens the walls of the heart chamber and makes it hard for the heart to pump blood. You can read more about Brown’s retirement on Athletics’ website. Immediately, Brown received an outpouring of support from coaches, teammates, alumni, and fans.

That support continues to this day, and you can check out our two videos below that show both head coach James Franklin and offensive lineman Juice Scruggs talking about Brown’s impact. Particularly noteworthy is Franklin emphasizing the importance of Brown graduating, along with additional players who’ve had to medically retire.

Earlier this month, I noticed that Micah Parsons has Brown included in his Twitter cover photo, and it inspired us to share some photos of Brown. Both he and Parsons propelled Penn State to that victory in the Cotton Bowl, with Parsons’ cover photo showing both of them — and their respective trophies for outstanding offensive and defensive player — at a media availability after the game.

Parsons is the leading candidate for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, and his Dallas Cowboys lead the NFC East with a 5-1 record, so it says a lot that he still chooses to highlight his days at Penn State and include Brown. You can see the photos we posted below, and from reading the replies, Brown still has fans cheering him in his post-playing days.

Count us at The Football Letter among those cheering for him, both at Penn State and in whatever he chooses to do after graduating.

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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. 

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‘We’re All In This Together’

Attendance for each of Penn State’s first four home games has surpassed 105,000, with alumni and fans once again transforming Happy Valley into a bustling frenzy on fall Saturdays. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

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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10 Questions For James Franklin

James Franklin has led Penn State to a No. 7 national ranking through the first half of the regular season. Here are 10 questions we’d like to ask Penn State’s head coach if the right opportunity arose. Photo credit: John Patishnock

James Franklin gets asked a lot of questions. A lot. Oftentimes, questions are grouped into predictable categories: thoughts on the upcoming opponent, how the team is improving, offseason priorities, etc.

That’s standard, and it makes sense. It’s also what Franklin is most likely expecting to be asked.

Here are 10 questions I’d like to ask the Penn State head coach, but never would during a typical media availability, at least not during the season. His mind is focused where it should be — on leading the football program. So, chances for a candid, insightful answer increase during an offseason interview, when Franklin has a chance to take something of a breather and discuss more light-hearted topics.

I want to emphasize these are legitimate, genuine questions. I believe Franklin’s responses would speak to his personality and give him an opportunity to talk about aspects of his professional and personal life that otherwise might go overlooked. And one or two are purely for my own curiosity.

Q: If you and your family had campus to yourselves for a day, or knew that fans wouldn’t ask for photos or autographs, what would you do?

Q: Have you ever hiked Mount Nittany? If so, what was the experience like? If not, would you like to hike Mount Nittany in the future?

Q: If you could appear as a contestant on any game show (current or past), what would it be and why?

Q: What is/was your favorite board game to play? Any strategies involved in that game that relate to football?

Q: When players celebrate a touchdown, do you ever worry about somebody twisting an ankle or otherwise getting hurt?

Q: College Football Playoff standings and rankings aside, what’s one bowl game you’d enjoy coaching in, and why?

Q: Signing as many autographs as you do, how did you decide on a handwriting style? Did it change when the number of autographs you sign increased, especially when people are standing in a line?

Q: When leaving the stadium after a game, do you ever get stuck in traffic? I know he leaves the stadium hours after the game ends, but I believe it’s still possible.

Q: Outside of people in the sports world, who are one or two people you’ve enjoyed meeting the most?

Q: When it comes to videos, photos, and social media posts that are shared on the football team’s various channels, how much do you impact what’s posted?

How about you, our alumni? Anything else you’d like to ask Penn State’s head coach? Leave us a comment or tag us on our Twitter account and let us know.

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The Roaring 20: Penn State-Iowa

Kinnick Stadium, hours before the venue’s biggest game since 1985, when No. 1 Iowa hosted No. 2 Michigan. The Hawkeyes escaped Saturday with a 23-20 win that was marred by fans booing Penn State injuries. You can see plenty of videos and photos from the weekend below. Photo credit: John Patishnock

Here are 20 insights from our weekend trip to see Penn State battle Iowa at Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes erased a 17-3 deficit to win 23-20, as numerous Nittany Lions — including three team captains in Sean Clifford, PJ Mustipher, and Jonathan Sutherland — left the game because of injuries.

1. Friday was an adventure for the Alumni Association staff. Some colleagues flew to Chicago and drove to Cedar Rapids (about a 3.5 hour-drive). We were all booked for an early flight, which got delayed, and then canceled, and some of us got rebooked on the 6 p.m. direct flight. Then, that flight got delayed and canceled. I figured that was it — we weren’t all making the trip to Iowa, myself included. Miss out on a Top-5 matchup? It hurt. I was on hold with the travel agency and couldn’t get through. Nobody could find a reasonable flight that’d get us into Iowa on time. We were looking at other airports. It seemed lost. Colleagues had even left to go home. I was right behind them, when I decided to stop at the airline counter for a last-ditch effort to see what was possible.

Then, something happened like out of a movie. People hung around, stayed by the counter. Eventually, a call was made. A head count followed. I called colleagues who turned around on the road and returned to the airport, with still no guarantee. But it was possible we’d get a new plane into State College specifically for our flight. And it happened. We had to wait, and we didn’t get into Iowa until midnight local time, but it was so worth it to be there to gather with Penn Staters at our events and see the Nittany Lions give one hell of a battle. Here’s a photo I took as I got on the plane out of State College on Friday night. P.S., it was probably closer to six hours at the airport, but I was out of it. Thanks to everyone at United who helped get us to the game.

2. I was disappointed to miss Friday night’s mixer and not see alumni and friends, including Central Iowa Chapter President Herb Meier ’73. Meier was a guest on last week’s episode of Football Letter Live, and you can see our conversation with him starting around the 13:30 mark.

3. For the third time in six years, we traveled to Iowa and held our pep rally at Duane Banks Field, home to Iowa’s baseball team. Here was the scene as we set up and prepared for the crowd.

4. We had some internet connection issues during our live stream of Saturday’s pep rally. Specifically, it dropped a few times, though only for a moment or two. Thanks to everyone who stayed with us, and you can watch the pep rally (broken into sections) on our Facebook video page.

5. The Pep Band closed out the pep rally with the alma mater, and you can see (and hear) the student, cheer team, Nittany Lion, and Penn Staters enjoying the moment.

6. There’s still time to join us at one of our three remaining pep rallies this regular season. View more information and sign up for the pep rallies at Ohio State (Oct. 30), Maryland (Nov. 6), and Michigan State (Nov. 27). We hope to see you on the road at some point this season.

7. After setting up, we walked around the tailgating lots a bit. Lots filled up quickly Saturday, and here’s one view with Kinnick Stadium in the background.

8. Iowa’s press box is absolutely gorgeous. We snapped this photo a few hours before kickoff.

9. Penn State legend LaVar Arrington was in the house for the game, after he appeared on FOX’s Big Noon Kickoff show to preview the game. You can see LaVar on set in this video from FOX’s College Football Twitter account, and we also snapped a quick photo of LaVar on the Penn State sideline shortly before kickoff. As you can imagine, he was popular among the Penn Staters who traveled, taking time for a photo with a young fan, moments before James Franklin led the Nittany Lions onto the field.

10. Say what you want about the fans — and we will in the next couple of notes — however, the wave to the children’s hospital at the end of the first quarter is a wonderful tradition that brings a lot of joy to the children facing much bigger battles off the field. You can see the moment on our Facebook page.

11. A lot’s been written and said about Iowa’s fans booing Penn State’s injured players. Obviously, the fans thought the players were faking to slow down Iowa’s offense, which in a word, is “absurd.” The Hawkeyes don’t run an upbeat, fast-paced offense. They huddle. They take time off the clock. Good for James Franklin directly addressing this after the game. Lions247’s Tyler Donohue shared Franklin’s response.

12. Following up on the last point: Outside of Nebraska, I’ve been to every away venue in the Big Ten, and Saturday was the third time I’ve seen Penn State play Iowa at Kinnick Stadium. While every fan base (even ours) has fans who act inappropriately and crudely, Iowa has more fans than most who fit into this category. Will that change in the future? Unfortunately, I doubt it, since Hawkeye coaches joined in the mocking. Here’s just one video making the rounds on social media.

13. After the game ended, you could see some Penn State fans applauding the team as players and coaches walked off the field. In addition to fans, family members also traveled, including Tariq Castro-Fields’ parents. Earlier this season, I finally introduced myself to a gentleman who I see at nearly every game, home and away. He usually has an appearance in our highlight videos, and I just wanted to thank him for always being so energetic. Turned out he’s Castro-Fields’ father, and he and his family attended the game at Kinnick Stadium. We shared a fist-bump when I saw him, and seeing him and his family and saying “hello” and “good to see you” has quickly become a nice tradition for me.

14. Just about every player available to the media afterward was asked about the fans booing their injured teammates. The Nittany Lions displayed an incredible level of maturity in their responses, showing much more class than the crowd. We shared Ellis Brooks’ insight, as he said Iowa “has loving (our emphasis) fans,” while adding that it’s a “weird” thing to have happen. You can view Brooks’ entire response on our Twitter page.

15. “Resilient” was one of the first words I thought of after Jordan Stout shared the message he had for teammates after the game, regarding the team still being in position to achieve all of is goals: “Don’t forget the goals, don’t forget what we’re pushing for. We’re going for a national championship, Big Ten championship. This doesn’t matter. We’re coming back stronger.” You can see Stout’s full response on our Twitter page.

16. Senior defensive end Arnold Ebiketie described Saturday’s setback as “just a bump on the road.” That response is a good indicator of the maturity level of Ebiketie, who is viewed as a leader even though this is his first year with the program after transferring from Temple.

17. We also spoke with standout linebacker Jesse Luketa. He discussed the team’s defensive performance, participating in the traditional wave, and much more. Visit our YouTube channel to see the whole discussion. You can also visit our Twitter channel for a shortened version, where he talks about the wave and why he’s confident the defense will bounce back.

18. Friday night, Lion Ambassadors hosted Haunted Valley, one of the many popular events they hold to celebrate and uphold Penn State spirit and tradition. You can see some photos from the event on the group’s Facebook page.

19. Even with the bye, we’ll still have a new episode of Football Letter Live this week. Sign up and hear from letterman Garry Gilliam ’13 and Paralympian and volunteer leader Jake Schrom ’11.

20. Rest up this week, Penn Staters. There’s still a lot of football to be played in the nation’s toughest conference and division.

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Social Media Milestone

Penn Staters packed Old Main Lawn when ESPN’s College Game Day visited in September for the White Out against Auburn. Having the wildly popular show broadcast from University Park provided multiple opportunities to capture and share enduring moments on The Football Letter’s platforms. Photo credit: John Patishnock

Something cool happened the other day.

I was looking at the analytics for our Football Letter Twitter account, and I saw that for September, we surpassed a million impressions in the month.

“We” is the appropriate word here, as I’m fortunate to work with an inspiring and impressive group of colleagues. Between a team of writers, graphic designers, and website gurus — that’s not an official title, though I’ve learned it’s an apt description, as it seems like whenever an obstacle arises, a solution follows soon after — there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes. 

And of course, John Black and Steve Manuel continue to provide coverage as only they can. 

What’s posted to our Twitter account is the final step of a lot of planning, working, editing, and sometimes traveling. Whenever we arrive at a hotel, my first two questions are always, “What’s the WiFi password?” and “How strong is the connection?”

As alumni know, we’ve expanded The Football Letter in the last year, airing a live, weekly online show — Football Letter Live — and sending a game day email that’s packed with videos, photos, and stories. Add in our video coverage, and there are now more ways for Penn Staters to stay connected to the football program through The Football Letter than ever before.

Sharing videos that transport Penn Staters onto the field at Beaver Stadium is one way that The Football Letter continues the original vision of Ridge Riley — and continued by John Black — to be the eyes and ears for alumni at games.

Of course, there’s another group that I need to mention: our Penn State alumni audience. We don’t reach that number without alumni and friends following us and sharing our posts. 

Above all, we hope you find value in our coverage. If you’re not at Beaver Stadium on game day, we want to make you feel like you were. If you’re in the stands, we want to make you feel like you were on the field

It’s all about recording and sharing enduring moments. Sometimes that’s in the form of videos, other times with photos, and still other times with John Black’s historic perspective. Through our twice-weekly emails, we combine all these aspects and add in some sharp graphics and features on our blog that readers hopefully find compelling. And it’s delivered right to your inbox, with no need to go searching.

We also updated our Football Letter landing page, which shares historical information on the publication, along with details on how to access past issues, another member benefit.

James Franklin rocking a fedora while celebrating with fans after a season-opening win at Wisconsin is just one example of the types of enduring moments we aim to share with Penn Staters.

Again, thank you for watching, reading, listening, and sharing. We hope to continue to grow our audience, and current Penn Staters who enjoy The Football Letter will play a pivotal role. If you know somebody who likes Penn State football — and we have a feeling that you do — go ahead and encourage them to give us a follow on Twitter or visit our landing page to learn more.

Of course, our audience grows simultaneously with our membership. If you’re not a member of the Alumni Association, you’re always welcome to visit alumni.psu.edu/join to become part of the Pride anytime you like. You’ll receive 30-plus benefits, including all The Football Letter emails throughout the season, and a whole lot more.

Lastly, if you have a story idea or know of a letterman or alumni volunteer who embodies the Success With Honor mantra, let me know at jmp411@psu.edu. We’re always happy to hear stories of Penn State alumni, and we look forward to sharing lots more this season and beyond. 

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

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