Reporting from the Press Box: An Onward State Diary
I’ve never considered myself a journalist. Most of my coverage of Penn State sports comes from a different place than the source of most news coverage – it’s anecdotal information infused with inferences based on statistics. But when I got the chance to attend Penn State’s game against Eastern Illinois this past Saturday – from the comfort of the press box – I jumped at the opportunity. As someone who has been fixated on Penn State football for years, the chance to see a game from a completely different perspective was incredibly alluring. So, armed only with the assurance that there would be a press pass waiting for me at the media entrance, I jumped in head first.
8:00 am: Alarm clock goes off, wake up queasy because I have a feeling I might make a fool out of myself today. This actually happens more often than you’d think.
8:25 am: Realize when getting dressed that I have no clean pants. Curse self for perpetuating to the pantsless blogger stereotype. At least I don’t live in my mother’s basement. Muse over the idea of showing up without pants as a joke, but ultimately cannot envision a scenario where that goes over well. One pair of very wrinkled khakis gets put through the wash.
9:15 am: Already running late. Take the pants out of the dryer, which are still wrinkled. Kind of wish that I lived in my mother’s basement because she would have an iron handy. Steal dress shirt from my roommates closet (yes, I was fresh out of those as well). Leave hastily written apologetic note.
9:30 am: Leave my apartment. Feel like a jackass walking two miles to the stadium wearing both a sport coat and a backpack.
10:20 am: Find the media entrance. It’s actually pretty low key. Thankfully they have a press pass waiting for me and this doesn’t become a post about how good Beaver Stadium security is at keeping out clueless website writers.
10:27 am: Get set up in the press box. It’s much bigger than I imagined. Most everyone seems familiar with each other here, and there are little cliques of reporters joking around. I feel like the kid that just moved to a new school sitting alone at lunch. But I don’t really blame them, I remember not knowing how to approach that new kid – he could be weird! If we acknowledge his presence, he might never leave us alone!
10:46 am: Having trouble about being stealthy in taking pictures. I’m not entirely sure if I should be covering those covering the game instead of covering the game itself, so I put my camera on mute. Dreading the moment someone calls me out on what I’m trying to do.
11:11 am: Notice that nearly everyone else here has food. There must be catering somewhere. I take it upon myself to wander the three levels of the box. Pass by the coaches’ booth where offensive coordinator Galen Hall works from during the game. Pee myself a little.
11:13 am: Success! I find an assortment of food and a soda fountain on the first level. There’s actually a freezer full of little cups of ice cream from the creamery. Settle for a bag of kettle cooked chips and an Aquafina. Riveting, I know.
11:31 am: Start paging through my media guide. Immediately 40% less in awe of what sportswriters do. This is like the ultimate cheat sheet- Player names, numbers, hometowns, Big Ten storylines, match-ups, it’s all there for you.
11:32 am: Overhear there is a “no cheering” rule. I am crestfallen.
11:51 am: Everyone in the box stands up for the National Anthem. I wonder if the aforementioned rule applies to yelling “OH!” right before “say does that star spangled banner yet wave.” Just to be safe, I don’t try to find out.
12:02 am: A monotone voice comes over the speakers to let us know Penn State will win the toss and defer to the second half. Also reminds us that there is no cheering. They really seem to hate cheering.
12:06 pm: Kickoff! The atmosphere in the box remains largely unchanged.
12:14 pm: Hey! Some life! A few of us groan as a potential touchdown pass ricochets off Brett Bracket during Penn State’s first possession.
12:39 pm: The slow-motion wave looks even better from this vantage point. “Ever see anything like that?” one guy says to an apparent newcomer.
12:54 pm: If you’re wondering, an incredible dropback by Daryll Clark where he evades a tackler with a spin move, jukes out another, and runs out of bounds to prevent a costly sack is relayed with a monotone “Number 17 Clark, 1 yard run” over the press box speakers. This dude is all business. Luckily, I can faintly hear the reaction of The Lion 90.7’s broadcast crew from their booth, and it is much closer to mine.
1:08 pm: A beautiful 52 yard TD pass that Chaz Powell catches despite flagrant pass interference by an EIU DB elicits a smidgen of genuine enthusiasm from my section of the booth. It’s nothing compared to the students enjoying Zombie Nation, but it’s nice to see that some of us are having a little fun.
1:18 pm: After an AJ Wallace Interception I witness the third Zombie Nation in a period of roughly 12 minutes. Even though today’s trip to the press box is an incredible once in a lifetime opportunity I will treasure forever, I miss the student section a little.
1:20 pm: A EIU linebacker named Nick Nasti (pronounced “nasty”) picks off Daryll Clark. How awesome of a last name for a linebacker. I’m not even sure he’s real – I think he might be a nemesis of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Or a Garbage Pail Kid. Who would have guessed that Bob Spoo wouldn’t have the most amusing name in this match-up?
1:29 pm: An incredible 91-yard fumble return touchdown by Navorro Bowman makes the entire stadium shake. It is simultaneously awesome and terrifying to feel the infrastructure sway. I break the no cheering rule.
1:35 pm: A good amount of the press corps takes halftime as an opportunity to get some food. As a consequence, they missed the best view of the Blue Band lining up into the shape of two boxers while playing the theme to Rocky.
2:10 pm: With the game all but won, general conversation strays beyond the game.
2:40 pm: Getting ready to go down to the field. I pack up my laptop and notebook, so every time beyond this is approximate.
2:50 pm: Find the field entrance, and emerge out of the tunnel. The game looks completely different without the vantage point of the stands. Media clearance lets you go to the visiting team’s side of the field near the north endzone.
3:00 pm: The game ends. The two teams converging for handshakes is my cue to find the media room.
3:06 pm: After wandering through the bowels of the stadium, I find the route for the media room. Passing security official after security official without even slowing down gives me a false feeling of importance. It’s very fulfilling. Eventually I enter a room around the size of one in new Willard and see Joe Paterno sitting at a table in the front of the room. I’m here.
3:12 pm: The media room is incredibly intimate. Reporters line the walls with their notebooks ready, completely focused on Paterno. Desk chairs fill the middle of the room and many of the photographers are bunched in the back.
Many teachers say there’s no such thing as a stupid question, but I don’t think applies to press conferences. One reporter asked Coach Paterno “what homecoming meant to him.” When asked for clarification, the journalist said “homecoming is next week.” I don’t think I would have preferred any answer other than Paterno’s genuine “Homecoming’s next week?” Even if he cared, I think this is a prompt more suitable for a 6th grade social studies paper, not for the winningest coach in college football.
3:20 pm: I leave the stadium with a stupid grin on my face. Everybody should get a chance to do this.