14 October 2006

A Michigan native on Penn State football

Today's Centre Daily Times has a great article written by a woman who was brought up as Michigan fan and then moved to State College. From the CDT:

The Big Ten educated my family. My grandmother and brother went to Illinois. My sister, grandfather and great-grandmother went to Wisconsin. Various other family members went to Northwestern, Michigan State and Chicago (which was in the Big Ten a long time ago).

My dad, two uncles, a great-uncle and I went to Michigan.

So I thought I knew the Big Ten, and I thought I knew Big Ten football. And I always thought Michigan football was the best -- the best stadium, the best helmets, the best marching band, the best tailgating. The indoctrination started early. My dad started taking me to games when I was 3, old enough to enjoy a pre-game bratwurst, sing "Hail to the Victors" and pronounce "Schembechler."

So, I really did think I knew all about football tradition.

Then I came to Penn State.

Michigan ain't got nothing on you people. You people are nuts.

I learned that early: I was teaching my first class at Penn State, a big lecture course. Michigan was a home game. Two days before the game, I thought I would inject a little levity into the classroom. The midterm was coming, and students were getting nervous. So I donned a University of Michigan cap and a Michigan maize 'n blue sweatshirt, walked onto the dais and launched into the lecture.

No levity; not funny at all. A near-riot ensued. I got booed. A few kids whipped out their cell phones, and I heard one woman in the front row apparently lodging a complaint with some official campus office.

A kid in the back of the hall stood up and shouted, "Hey, we pay your salary, and this is just wrong!" I think he was crying.

Another man started running up and down the aisle screaming unkind words about Lloyd Carr.

OK, so you're reading this and saying, "What was she thinking?!" Well, what I was thinking was that Penn State students were like students and fans at other Big Ten schools -- including Michigan. And that means that yes, football is important, and yes, loyalties run deep. But it's still just a game.

Now I know. Penn State football is sacred, revered, lauded and magnified. And not just by students, but by all of the 100,000 fans who show up each game day, many traveling great distances just to park their RVs in the shadow of the Jumbotron.

Tailgating in Happy Valley is an art -- really good performance art -- unrivaled in all the Big Ten. Your stadium is magnificent -- it's always a breathtaking scene when I drive off the U.S. route 322 bypass at Park Avenue and its silhouette comes into view.

The Blue Band, the Lion and his push-ups, that corny lion's roar recording and most of all, the awe and gratitude you all feel for your coach.

It's inspiring, and I mean that, right down to the bottom of my Wolverine heart. I love football Saturdays.

First, I put on my lion's paw turtleneck, then my Penn State sweatshirt; I carry my Nittany Lion seat cushion and precautionary blue-and-white rain poncho and join the march toward Beaver Stadium.

I haven't achieved football nut-dom like the rest of you, though. I still think it's just a game. This Saturday, let's go blue. Still not funny?

Anne "Arbor" Hoag works at Penn State as associate dean for undergraduate education and outreach in the College of Communications. She lives in State College within earshot of that corny lion's roar.

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