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Same game, different culture: Penn State

October 15th, 2013 by Derick Hutchinson


(Derick Hutchinson, M&GB)

As SuperFan of the Maize Rage student section at the University of Michigan, I have the opportunity to travel to all of the Michigan football away games and experience what football Saturday means in different parts of the country. This feature will run after each away game this season, detailing the gameday experience for Michigan games outside of Ann Arbor. Previously: UConn.

When Michigan fans travel to different schools to watch the Wolverines play on the road, they regularly have to get used to a much smaller stadium and quieter atmosphere. In Week 4, the Connecticut Huskies broke a Rentschler Field record by packing 42,000 people into the stadium; about 70,000 less than that of a typical Ann Arbor game day.

This weekend was a different story. As the few Wolverine fans trickled into Beaver Stadium they realized that the structure was possibly even more impressive than our very own Big House.

When I first arrived in State College, one of the first things I learned was that this was the biggest game of the season for the Nittany Lions. On Friday night before the game the students were happy to explain their hatred for both Michigan and Ohio State, but it was clear that the night game against the Maize and Blue would be Penn State’s bowl game this year.

Beaver Stadium is an imposing structure, both inside and out (Derick Hutchinson, M&GB)

Not having been to Penn State since the Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky scandal, I wasn’t sure how touchy of a subject it was among the students. Surprisingly, it was basically the butt of all the jokes. Though our little group in maize never brought the scandal up, we did end up discussing it multiple times throughout the weekend. Penn State students want to prove that they have moved on from the nightmare and won’t let it define them.

Instead, they just want to beat Michigan.

While tailgating before the game on Saturday, Penn State fans made it very clear that Michigan was their main target. An enormous homecoming crowd of almost 108,000 couldn’t have included more than a few thousand Michigan fans. It was easy to pick them out because of the famous Penn State white out.

The white out stands for what separates the Penn State game environment from that of Michigan. During a maize out, Michigan Stadium has one maize section where the students stand and a mixed bag of maize and blue throughout the rest of the bowl. Fans don’t put much stock in participating in the game atmosphere but simply want to watch their team win. It’s tradition.

But in Happy Valley every single fan is ready to cheer like crazy for Penn State from the opening kickoff. The white out was breathtaking. Over 100,000 strong were decked out in all white and shaking white pompoms as Bill O’Brien led his team onto the field. This scene was unlike anything our little group of Michigan students had ever experienced, but we had faith that our undefeated Wolverines would quiet things down.

For much of the second half, we were exactly right.

Michigan came out of halftime with a bang, returning a fumble for a touchdown on Penn State’s first offensive play. A quarter later, the Wolverines were ahead by 10 points with six minutes to go and we were enjoying the eerie silence in the enormous stadium.

Though it has a smaller capacity than the Big House, Beaver Stadium is built entirely above ground and is much more intimidating both inside and outside. Second and third decks keep all of the sound in while reaching up much higher than the final rows in Ann Arbor. If you’re wondering how a structure like this can be safe, you aren’t alone.

Penn State’s famous chant is the Zombie Nation cheer, which gets the entire audience involved in jumping and screaming along. Because it was one of the things I was really looking forward to, I asked our host, a senior at Penn State, about Zombie Nation.

“There’s a new rule that we can only do it two times each game,” he told me. “We were doing structural damage to the stadium so they had to limit us.”

Derick (2nd from left) and his crew were impressed by the atmosphere and how welcoming the Penn State fans were (Derick Hutchinson, M&GB)

At the suggestion of damaging a concrete structure like Beaver Stadium I was astonished, but when Penn State came back and tied the game with under a minute remaining in regulation, Zombie Nation blared and the back wall of the stadium was visibly wavering back and forth with the Nittany Lion faithful.

It was the most incredible atmosphere I’ve ever been a part of, and I wasn’t even in an appreciative mood. Four overtimes later Michigan had missed easy kicks and taken costly penalties and Penn State was celebrating an unbelievable win.

Following such an emotional win I expected to be mercilessly harassed by the Penn State students all night, but was surprised when they continued a trend set before the game. While migrating toward the stadium for the game, our little group of Michigan fans was welcomed to Happy Valley countless times. Students, alumni and others went out of their way to walk past us and say good luck.

It was extremely strange. We weren’t sure how we felt about the hospitality because it didn’t feel right, but it was much better than being harassed in Columbus or East Lansing. After the game there were fans that laughed and jeered at us, but the number that told us good game probably outnumbered them.

Even though they always seem to beat Michigan in recent years, and they ended our undefeated season, it’s hard to hate Penn State fans because of how cool they were; both when they were sure they would lose and after they had won.

I hope that Michigan fans can learn from the atmosphere that exists within Beaver Stadium. The students lead the charge, but alumni and casual fans set it apart by participating much more than those around other Big Ten schools. Even the younger fans are fully invested in Penn State football, as we found out when a couple of three-year old girls started the “we are” “Penn State” cheer all by themselves from atop an RV after the game.

While I wouldn’t trade game day in Ann Arbor for anything, I do think that Michigan fans can learn from the commitment in Beaver Stadium. Michigan’s tradition and history set it apart, but there is room to make the Big House even better.

Winning on the road is a great feeling, but losing is definitely the worst. Thankfully, the Penn State faithful were bearable after the game, but I still had a bad taste in my mouth after Michigan blew the 10 point lead.

The first loss is one of the hardest each year, but Michigan won’t have to deal with an atmosphere like Penn State’s for the rest of the season.

Losing is never fun, but witnessing a Penn State night game was an incredible sports experience. Hopefully Team 134 can tighten things up and send us home with more road wins in 2013.

  • DJ

    This reminds me of a similar article that appeared in Alabama’s school paper last year. They were overwhelmed how Penn Staters had outdone them in “southern hospitality” in back to back hong and road games. I may have talked to most of the Michigan fans that came to our University to enjoy the game. All were friendly and open and we welcomed them. Great article, great comments! Cheers.

  • Chris

    Thanks Derek. I have been the recipient of some not so gracious welcomes at other big ten schools. (not Michigan). Because of that I have always felt that it was important to welcome and make comfortable the visiting team. After all…you are just doing what we are doing…cheering on your team. Please come back anytime and enjoy the beauty of Happy Valley!

  • sgabner2@gmail.com

    Make no mistake about it thats the influence of Joe Paterno. He taught us good sportsmanship. He taught us to be a team. He taught us leadership. He taught us the importance of education over football. He taught us so much and I miss him. Penn State is a better place because of him.

  • Derick Hutchinson

    Beat OSU! Thanks for reading!

  • LindaMcD

    Thanks for all your kind words. You made my day!

  • Derick Hutchinson

    My pleasure!

  • Derick Hutchinson

    yes I did, thanks!

  • Christian’s Mom

    Derick, Outstanding writing! Great content & great delivery . . . you represent UM well!

  • Derick Hutchinson

    Thank you!!

  • TheHillian

    Great article! I’ll be at Michigan game this weekend for the UI game. As a native of PA, I’m very proud of the PSU student body. Hopefully I’ll see some of that behavior from the Wolverine fans on Saturday!

  • Martyn Iv

    Excellent article. Regarding the continuing crisis, Curley, Schultz and Spanier will face trial in the Spring of 2014. We as Penn Staters hope the following questions are answered:

    • Why did Graham Spanier, a family counselor and victim of child abuse shelter a monster?

    • How do we reconcile Victim 2′s sworn statement that nothing happened in the shower with McQueary’s changing testimonies?

    • Why do our HR records show the janitor who co-workers claimed he saw Sandusky abusing Victim 8 (still unidentified) didn’t work for Penn State at the time?

    • Why did Schultz’s secretary testify he & his attorney delivered his so called Secret Sandusky File to prosecutors if he was actively part of a cover-up?

    • Why are Curley, Schultz and Spanier sticking so hard to their story instead of going the typical route of ratting someone out in a plea bargain?

    We hope answers to these questions and more come forth so that we finally erase the ambiguity of what happened and really make things right.

  • Arthur Radley

    Thanks for the fair and honest review of a weekend at PSU. We love to have teams like Michigan and Alabama come to Beaver Stadium because they understand tradition and integrity. I have been to the Big House and had the same game day experience.

  • Grant

    Derick,

    Thank you for a terrific article about your experience at Penn State last weekend. We take great pride in the intense, yet welcoming game day environment in Happy Valley. Several Michagn fans joined me for the game and also remarked at how well they were treated. I’m glad, but not at all surprised, that my friends’ experience was not unique. Stories like yours make me proud to be part of he Big 10! Good luck the rest of the season.

    Best wishes,
    Grant Keener

  • Deb

    Thank you Pamela! Well said! We ARE!

  • Eric Luebehusen

    I also found your take from a visiting fan’s perspective very interesting, and I am very glad to hear that you were treated (mostly) with kindness and good sportsmanship. I have forwarded this article to several PSU alum, so they can also appreciate what it means to visiting fans to be welcomed. I’ll add that as a PSU of ’92, I experienced (for what seemed to be an eternity) a period where Michigan always beat Penn State, regardless of how good either team was. It was painful! And I’ll second the feelings on OSU.

  • Class of 76

    I know a very wealthy Michigan Alum (has his own Gulfstream 5) who is a significant UM athletic supporter. He goes to many of UM’s road games. His experiences mirror your article’s sentiments. He has nothing but good things to say about visiting Penn State. – and his experiences go back waaaay before the scandal.

  • Willie Green

    Perhaps other PSU alumni have pointed it out, but please allow me to offer a correction. Beaver Stadium is not a concrete structure. It is built primarily from steel, much like an Erector Set.

    Originally built on the west side of campus (near Rec Hall), the 30,000 seat stadium was literally dismantled, moved to it’s present location on the east side of campus, reassembled & expanded to hold 46,000 fans. Following expansions in ’72 and ’76, a 1978 expansion saw the entire structure cut into sections, raised on hydraulic jacks, and additional seating added on the lowest ring of the stadium where the track used to be (bringing capacity to 76,600 at the time.) Subsequent expansions have brought Beaver Stadium to its present 106,572 official capacity, although 110,753 is the largest official crowd at one game.

    But the point is, Beaver Stadium is built from steel, not concrete. So that’s probably why it sways a bit when you get 108 Thousand fans bouncing up and down to Zombie Nation.

  • 409er

    Thanks, but its simply “the Jerry Sandusky scandal” dick

  • maizeandgoblue

    And here’s the small percentage of Penn State fans this article was not referring to.

  • Jim Peters

    Penn State fan living in southern VA. It’s awesome for a fan to have people from different states say how they side with PSU when talking about the NCAA penalties. And I’m not an alum, I was born and raised in PA, but have been a Nittany Lion fan since I started watching football. The comments I heard after that game were all great, and they everyone held both teams in the highest regard, and stating that this was the best game of the year. I have been fortunate enough to have experienced home games, but never a white out, and it’s on my bucket list. Anyway, congratulations and condolences are in order and offered. I sincerely hope that these two schools are the new rivalry in the B1G, and I put this game in that bucket list I mentioned. I can’t think of fans from any other school I would enjoy sharing seats with than U of M. WE ARE. Go Blue, BEAT OSU. Oh, and thanks for the kind words…..

  • BSORaiderErie

    This isn’t unusual, I have witnessed many times when the other teams are clapped off the field if they provided a good game, any good coach wants the best from the opposing team! JoePa was no different and the fans have always been great to the opposite team’s, except a couple of times to Virginia, but great class of people! The article is great but there has never been a Joe Paterno scandal! Actually, JoePa stopped a pedophile and the Board of Trustees took up leadership from our leadership in Washington and bunkered down and put the blame on the messenger! We all know what happened and we are still taking it to the people and show them how despicable the leadership of our great University failed and took a page out of the propaganda house and used the nations once trusted media to go after the greatest coach ever, but it wasn’t their first attempt to hurt JoePa but what they did to this UNIVERSITY in the process was exactly what you would expect from COWARDS and now we all know that both the NCAA and the Freeh group made contact almost on a weekly basis? All of this will be coming out soon! Anyway great article except for the lack of common knowledge about the Sandusky scandal.
    It is amazing how many people don’t realize how sports smart Pennsylvanians really are whether it’s football, hockey, baseball or basketball and I am sure I’m missing some sports that Pennsylvanians are involved in like rugby! Have a good day!

  • Arnie Nance

    Derick, now you know what it feels like to be a PSU fan, great article, well written!

  • Hepburg

    As a Penn State fan, thank you for the kind words. Several years ago I visited the Big House for a PSU game – won by Michigan. The home fans were exactly as described by you. Ion a word-Classy. Seems Michigan have more in common than different

  • Debbie

    I loved this article! Very nice of you to put this out for others to hear about if they have not been to a PSU football game since our sanctions. Also thanks to Pamela for her comments. PERFECT!

  • LTinGA

    Thank you for your kind words. What a game! I’m glad you had a positive experience at Beaver Stadium and I hope that that will continue to be the case for opposing teams we play. It makes me proud <3.

  • Anonymous

    Its always good hear fans of the opposing team have had a good time in state college and at the game even though were both there to beat each others team In my eyes Penn state could have lost this game and it would have still been one of the greatest games played at beaver stadium scince Joe Paterno’s 409 come from behind win in 2011 . I would like to travel again to the big house just to see the staduim agian I was there in 2005 when Penn State lost when they put back 3seconds on the clock and in one play we lost to the wolverines . just want to see what it looks like now from the lastest expantion to the Big House

  • JohnB.

    classy comment…best wishes