Review: Pittsburgh Panthers vs Penn State Nittany Lions 11/24/84
Final Score: Pitt 31 Penn State 11
“There’s nothing like the first time.”
Beaver Stadium is a huge stadium and hitting a game in Happy Valley should be on anyone’s list. I went to this game in 1984 and the stadium has only gotten bigger since. What I remember was crazy traffic coming and going. We sat way up in peanut heaven. My recollection was that the seats were simple aluminum bleachers. It was my first big time college game and the structural design of the stadium did not create a great deal of confidence in me. But I was all of 17 years old and hardly qualified to assess the overall stadium quality.
Penn State has a number of traditions, most notably the trademark Nittany Lion roar and “We are Penn State”. But what they do best is the “White Out” where all the fans wear white to the game. I have been to other stadiums where schools have tried to replicate it. Some are close, but none match PSU (see Louisville). As with every game, it was a raucous atmosphere and the joint was packed. That still holds true today despite the program being on probation. It is a worthy venue, and combined with a trip to Hershey makes for a great long autumn weekend.
While not always home to the most sophisticated folks, Pennsyltucky is beautiful country. State College is literally in the middle of the state, so one has to fly in to larger city like Pittsburgh or Philly and drive over. Flying is possible but requires a puddle jumper to nearby Altoona or Harrisburg. There may even be a direct flight to State College. We drove down from Erie, winding through the mountains to get to State College. I have been to the area many times since, coming from different directions and it is always a pretty drive. Happy Valley is used to big crowds, so the route is well marked once in town.
Pitt was starting their decline and came into Beaver Stadium at 2 – 7 with a tie and Penn State was 6 – 4, so neither team was setting the world on fire. I had expected Penn State to trounce Pitt but as with any good rivalry, the records don’t always matter. The Pitt win put the series at PSU 42 Pitt 39, with 4 ties. I really don’t remember much of the game other than we had managed to smuggle in a few bottles of Moosehead Beer. And I do mean few, one bottle each.
I grew up in Northwest, Pa and the area was a little isolated from the state but still very much Penn State country. My Pops got his Masters from Pitt, but he was a quiet Pitt fan. And while Pittsburgh was closer than State College, they both got equal coverage in the local fish wrap. I always liked Joe Pa and the way he ran the program (this was way before the deplorable Sandusky issues came to light). But, I also supported Pitt. To be honest, I usually rooted for whichever team had the best chance for a national championship in any given year. Back then, both programs were big time national players. I would say my ambivalence was not common in the Pittsburgh area. I know several native ‘Burghers who hate Penn State. It was and still is an intense rivalry to them.
I won these tickets through a raffle. Actually, it was a raffle run by my high school football team and each of us had to sell ten tickets. The day they were due, I think I had sold only three or four. I was flush with birthday money, so I just bought the rest of the tickets myself. It did occur to me that my odds were better than most and I might win. The drawing was at halftime of the last home game of the season. As it turned out, I recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff of the second half. So when the announcer called me out for making the play, he also mentioned that I had won the four tickets to the game. A couple of my best friends on the team, Nick and Matt, automatically made the cut. That left one ticket open and the negotiating started in earnest immediately after the game. With my virtually non-existence driving experience, my folks weren’t going to let me with drive to State College. So the price for the fourth was the ability to drive. Getting someone whose parents were comfortable with letting their son and three other kids drive halfway across the state for a party weekend took some time. I don’t think we locked in John until the Friday of that weekend. But we had our fourth and we left bright and early on Saturday morning. The ride down was highlighted by Matt regaling the details of his date from the night before. Matt was a chick magnet and nobody could close the deal like him. As usual, his date was more than happy to consummate the relationship. Unfortunately, it was also her time of the month. At that point, no one in the car was a virgin, but the concept of sex during menstruation had never occurred to any of us. It was new even to Matt and he was not exactly eager to broaden his horizons. However, after some coaxing from his willing accomplice, he soldiered on. Our buddy is no Henry Miller, but we were still enthralled with the tale of his exploits. Complete with timely references to other fall activities, Matt was never funnier than during that ride to State College. With that, another chapter in my sexual education had been closed.
If the drive down was blast, the return trip was the opposite. Even though Pitt had won the game, we left the game excited about spending the night partying and experiencing college life for the first time. Traffic was horrendous and we were struggling with directions. We realized we missed a turn and John attempted a U-turn and got t-boned. Nobody was hurt but the car had a nice dent. John called his Dad and it was agreed that we should drive home. With the dent in the car, there was a steady breeze which made for a chilly and somber ride home. Between the free tickets, road trip, and accident, my first D-I game was one I will never forget.