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College Football kicks off in Happy Valley
Posted: Saturday August 28, 1999 08:07 PM
CNNSI.com's Stewart Mandel was on-site at Beaver Stadium in State College, Penn., where the 1999 season kicked off Saturday afternoon with SI's top-ranked team, Penn State, taking on highly ranked Arizona. In the hours before the game, he brought the tailgate to you with all the atmosphere and ambience that is college football.
What a start to the season
PRESS BOX, BEAVER STADIUM (CNN/SI) -- And so, another college football season has begun, albeit in a bit more disappointing fashion than many of us had hoped from a No. 3 vs. No. 4 game.
Of course, it's none too disappointing in Happy Valley, where fans stayed in the parking lot for up to two hours after the game to celebrate. The sound of horns honking and fans cheering could be heard from the press box when the Penn State players started filing out more than an hour after the final gun.
The party will continue all night in State College, where the fans need to cool down from eight months worth of anticipation paying off in big fashion against Arizona.
Meanwhile, on the press box television, Notre Dame and Kansas, and Florida State and Louisiana Tech begin their seasons. Next week, there will be 10 times as many games taking place.
As I pack up the laptop and prepare for the long trek back to Atlanta, I can't stop thinking about just how darn good Penn State looked today, and just what a great game it will be when they play at Miami in the Orange Bowl Sept. 18.
And I wonder whether it would still be possible to swing down to New Jersey for the Ohio State-Miami game tomorrow. College football is here, baby!
Lets get it on
HEADING UP THE STEPS, BEAVER STADIUM (CNN/SI) -- Thanks for taking the ride with us. I'm heading back up to the press box for the game, and I'll update you on the mood from Happy Valley afterwards.
What's that on your head?
SOUTH END ZONE, BEAVER STADIUM (CNN/SI) -- Some crack investigative journalism has revealed why the section mentioned earlier in our Countdown was full before any others. It's the student section, and many of the students there had been in line since 10 a.m. Friday.
When asked if this was a normal occurrence or if this signified it being a big game, Adam Reed of Emporia, Penn., said, "Every game here is a big game."
Behind the end zone, three junior Penn State students, John McKaskey of New Castle, Penn., James Holly of Tunkhannock, Penn., and Kevin Miller of Pittstown, Penn., are wearing hollowed out watermelons for hats that spell out Penn State Defense No. 1.
McKaskey said that it took a half hour to scoop out the watermelon. "We're starting a new tradition here," Miller said.
On the field, the Penn State cheerleaders are warming up.
"This is the biggest game I've ever cheered in, and I've been pumped up all week," said Steve Reeves, a junior from Philadelphia.
Reeves said the squad will unveil several new tricks involving the Nittany Lion mascot during the game.
One is called the double diamondhead in which two male cheerleaders will hold up each of the Lion's feet. He in turn will be holding up two female cheerleaders. No word yet on the liability involved in this feat.
Good eating all around
MAIN TAILGATE LOT (CNN/SI) -- The way to stand out in this giant lot of RV's, sport-utility vehicles and trucks is to attach a flag to your car and fly it as high as you can.
Joseph Desmond, one half of the famous Mr. and Mrs. Penn State duo (Mrs. Penn State is sick today) dons his white Penn State tuxedo jacket covered with emblems, white and blue Joe Pa 300 socks, white shorts and a hat embroidered with the words, "Dust to Sugar Bowl -- '99 Lions Roll."
"It's a tribute to our team and to the drought we're experiencing," Desmond said. "It's like the Dust Bowl around here. It's hard to come up with these. This is about my 145th hat sign since I started doing this in 1983."
Desmond, from Mill Hall, Penn., said about 100 hours of stitching goes into his outfit.
Near him, Judy Walker, a 1971 Penn State graduate, has bought two tailgate spaces. In one space she has put a band called the Deacons of Dixieland, and in the other space she is serving up food for her family. The spread includes ham and turkey subs, chips and dip. Among the guests is her brother, a 1968 Penn State graduate, who has journeyed from San Francisco for the game.
"We usually make one meal before the game, one meal for halftime and one for after the game when you wait out traffic," Walker said.
The best tailgate menu on our trip into tailgate alley easily comes from Rick Sabol, whose contingent left Princeton, N.J., at 5 a.m. this morning. He is cooking steak and potatoes, serving home-grown tomatoes with bleu cheese dressing and dishing out his homemade salsa.
Empty stadium with party still on the outside
PRESS BOX, BEAVER STADIUM (CNN/SI) -- Other than one full pocket in the corner of the end zone, the stadium is nearly empty. The reason for that is the giant party still going strong in the parking lots outside.
The only other place that is not empty is the press box. Penn State issued credentials to more media members for this game than any other game in Nittany Lion history. But media members are not the only ones who have traveled a great distance for this contest.
One couple, season-ticket holders in Happy Valley for 20 years, made the 8 1/2 hour drive up yesterday afternoon from Charlotte, N.C.
Their commute pales in comparison to the thousands of red-clad Arizona fans who have journeyed across the country to cheer their team on in the biggest game in school history.
Quiet confidence pervades in Happy Valley
PARKING LOT ON PARK AVENUE (CNN/SI) -- You know it must be game day in State College if you're stuck in traffic.
The single-lane backups of cars and trucks with Penn State flags on them started nearly 45 minutes outside of town. Where Friday there were only 50 or so RVs in the grassy parking lots outside Beaver Stadium at 5 p.m., now the line of deluxe tailgating machines stretches as far as the eye can see.
Fans have been pumped since last January when they began to realize just how high Arizona would be ranked for this game. While Nittany Lion fans are wary of the Wildcats, there is an overwhelming sense of superiority that pervades in State College.
That may have been summed up best by a Penn State student at last night's pep rally when he shouted out, "Arizona is for sand and desert, not football."
Courtney Brown graces the game program, and if Penn State is going to shut down Arizona's high-powered offense, the senior defensive end will have to play a critical role.
The main concern for Penn State fans is still quarterback Kevin Thompson. The mere mention of his name elicits groans and hisses from some of the faithful. But on the Penn State pregame radio show the announcers are confident that Thompson will be improved this season.
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