Editor’s note: This story appeared on a special “Peach” page in the sports section of Friday’s Star Tribune. Pick up a copy to check it out.
Before fans head out to view a Penn State football game at historic Beaver Stadium, it is proper to prepare for an arduous journey across Atherton Street, College and Beaver Avenues or University Drive. Packing some MREs, kissing one’s loved ones goodbye and praying to a higher power are all in order.
Hours before kickoff on the gridiron, no matter what obscure foe has the unfortunate task of playing in front of 100,000 vociferous Penn Staters, automobiles flood the tiny town, bumper-to-bumper on every street.
Large campers park in lots surrounding the stadium, smoke billowing from grills serving link sausages and juicy hamburgers. Hotels are exorbitant and sparse, forcing numerous out-of-towners to stay in neighboring Altoona, 40 minutes away. Students camp out in tents for the best seats in the student section. Dense crowds linger just outside the iron gates, waiting to enter the hallowed grounds.
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“I don’t think we need to create excitement,” leader of the Nittany Lion pack James Franklin told reporters this week. “… I go walking around campus, there’s excitement. We don’t fill up 107,000-seat stadium without excitement and without as good of support as there is in the country.”
Now compare that to Minnesota’s Golden Gophers. Navigating campus on gamedays is hardly a hassle, with many fans not trickling into TCF Bank Stadium until well into the first quarter. The student section, in fact, hardly ever fills up, the allure of Saturday sleep and studies too much for many college students.
While there are dedicated and ardent football fans of the Gophers, the fact remains: Penn State’s blood runs blue. The Gophers’ pumps red, just like everyone else.
The Gophers tout this contest as one of the biggest in decades with the No. 17 team in this week’s first College Football Playoff rankings facing No. 4 Penn State in an all-undefeated matchup 11 weeks into the season. But Penn State fans already have one eye on Nov. 23, when No. 1 Ohio State looms in a heavyweight bout that likely will decide the Big Ten East champion.
If Penn State remains in the CFP top four, the Kings of the Jungle would have a chance to vie for the national championship at season’s end. The Gophers and their easier schedule sit four spots behind bitter border rival Wisconsin, which lags two games behind in the West title race.
In fact, tickets for this Gophers-Penn State battle of the unbeatens were still available until Thursday. Penn State’s student tickets, for example, sell out every year, often leaving many out of luck.
“Penn State is Penn State for a particular reason,” energetic young Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said. “We’re on our way to building that in terms of restoring our tradition from the past to the present.”
That’s something Penn State already has done, bouncing back from scandal and unexceptional seasons to re-emerge a powerhouse. And it started in 2016, in an overtime victory against the Gophers at Beaver Stadium. The Nittany Lions were 2-2 that season before the win. Ever since, they have stampeded to a 37-7 record.
“I remember it very clearly, how the stadium was, and how the stadium was with me and how the stadium was with the team,” Franklin said. “I remember that very clearly. I probably always will.
“I’m very proud of it.”