By Adam Duerson
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Like its 76-year-old coach, Penn State is classic and old school.
Is there a better road trip than State College? Sure. A better football matchup than this Saturday's Penn State-Boston College tilt? No doubt. But on an early fall morning -- when SEC and ACC cities are muggier than Malaysia -- it's hard to beat tailgating outside Beaver Stadium, suckling on the fresh Mount Nittany air and being overwhelmed by 117 years of football tradition.
Game day in Happy Valley feels like 1954. Folks rarely boo. (The faculty passed a no-booing resolution in 2000.) And if the football team's no-frills navy-and-white unis don't get you in a retro mood, then the postgame sight of football god Joe Paterno (who at 76 just made it onto a Wheaties box) schlepping 10 blocks to his modest ranch home will. Penn State is the classic old-school school, the ideal kickoff road trip.
Stay near campus, lest you end up in the woods, where the sound of banjos wouldn't be out of place. The school's pulse beats fastest along the strip between College and Beaver avenues, and Atherton and Garner streets. On game days get up early and follow the crowds down College Avenue and up University Drive to the stadium for tailgating -- the perfect marriage of State College's twin pastimes: football and food.
While on campus to deliver the commencement address in 1996, Bill Clinton became the first person ever allowed to mix two flavors at The University Creamery -- where Ben & Jerry took a short course -- then said the Peachy Paterno might be a fitting snack at a Camp David peace summit. Bubba also would've enjoyed The Bottle Shop, where the $4 cafeteria tray of fries typifies the town's gut-busting mentality -- which also applies to drinking. One, for example, can earn a plaque at Zeno's by sampling 80 of the bar's 200 import beers.
Best Lodging: The Penn Stater, The Atherton Hotel and The Nittany Lion Inn are within a block of campus, but rooms are usually booked a year in advance.
Best Music: CrowBar offers C-list rock acts, while Player's Night Club bumps dance music.
Best Weekends: Oct. 4 vs. Wisconsin; Nov. 1 vs. Ohio State.
Distance From: Columbus, Ohio: 335 miles; Ann Arbor, Mich.: 389; Madison, Wis.: 714.
5 Things Every Visitor Needs to Know
Don't bother Joe Pa. He's accessible -- he likes to walk home after games -- but show some respect.
Seriously, no booing. Jeering Penn State won't land you in the state pen, but it's frowned upon in Happy Valley.
Watch the drum major. Superstition says if he lands two standing flips before the game, PSU wins. Recently, he's been nailing about three fourths of the aerials, which explains Penn State's 9-4 record last year.
Mingle. Tailgaters welcome all -- friends and foes -- with open arms...at least until the game is over.
Appreciate the unis. Until 1890 PSU's colors were black and pink. Best to keep that fact to yourself.
The 48-Hour Guide to State College
7:06 P.M., THE ALLEN STREET GRILL Pull into town and grab a bite -- a portobello cheesesteak will only run you $6.95 -- at this joint popular with townies and students.
2:14 A.M., YE OLDE COLLEGE DINER If breakfast food is the new pizza of late-night fare, then the place locals know simply as The Diner is the spot to partake. The grilled stickie ($1.95) -- a doughy delight -- is legendary.
9:36 A.M., THE JOELOPY Goalposts + superfan's station wagon = JoeLopy. Check out the beater, then tailgate with a view of Mount Nittany.
NOON, PENN STATE VS. BOSTON COLLEGE The Nittany Lions haven't played the Eagles since 1992, when B.C. pulled a 35-32 upset in State College.
4:49 P.M., THE PHYRST Swing by for postgame Table Wars: teams of tipplers slam mason jars of Yuengling while trying to be the loudest table.
9:23 P.M., THE RATHSKELLER Grab a case of Rolling Rock ponies ($18), but don't wear sandals -- the floor gets a bit grimy.
2:31 A.M., CANYON PIZZA Be on your best behavior, as 2003 brings safety (read: riot-prevention) cameras to Beaver Canyon, including one near this buck-a-slice joint.
10:19 A.M., THE WAFFLE SHOP Beneath a mountain of whipped
cream lies the breakfast of two-time football national champions: blueberry waffles ($4.75).
11:59 A.M., THE UNIVERSITY CREAMERY On your way out of town, pick up a half-gallon of Peachy Paterno ice cream ($4.45). Dry ice and cooler bags are available.
Next Week's Road Trip: Lincoln, Neb.