Going To Jersey To Experience Penn State At Its Best
It was sleeting. My shoes were filled with water. I couldn’t feel my hands. And I was in a crowd of Penn State fans, alumni, and students who I had never met before Saturday, yelling all of the classic Beaver Stadium cheers and exchanging high-fives as Andre Robinson ran down the sideline to the far end zone to put the Lions up 32-0 in the fourth quarter.
Saturday was the first road game I had been to as a Penn State fan. While I’ve witnessed the second-half comebacks against Minnesota and Ohio State and sat in a dorm lounge filled to capacity to watch a heartbreaker against Pitt and teem with misery against Michigan, I don’t think I ever fully experienced the true spirit of what it means to root for the Nittany Lions until I was one of the many loyal fans clad in white and soaking wet in an empty High Point Solutions Stadium on Saturday.
After halftime, the Rutgers student section all but disappeared. Despite only trailing 9-0 in the final home game of the year, the weather and disappointing season finally took its toll. A majority of the Penn State fans though — who were scattered around the stadium and had longer travels home than walking to a campus dorm — braved the weather and jeers to stay until the end, even after one of the worst Penn State halves of the season.
Something that has always stood out to me at home games is how the team and crowd always feed off of each other’s energy during pivotal, high-intensity situations. Players stand on benches and wave their arms up and down to get the crowd going and fans create an electric atmosphere with We Are chants and Zombie Nation. In the second half on Saturday, I saw that exchange in a stadium that was supposed to be a hostile environment but had so few scarlet shirts left that I could’ve counted them on two hands.
It isn’t the location that creates home-field advantage. It’s the fans. And rain or shine, home or away, Penn State fans are some of the most devout and dynamic in the nation.
The game felt like a home game even when High Point Solutions Stadium was empty and quiet in the beginning of the game, when Rutgers was still one play away from taking the lead and the rain began to fall. Sure, Rutgers students got on their feet every third down to do their little hand-motions, but they only ever made noise when the stadium DJ encouraged them to do so. I was sitting in the end zone opposite the student section and could barely hear its repeated “Fuck Penn State” chants.
What I could hear though were Penn State fans yelling “We Are” from the upper deck and singing the tunes of Blue Band songs a cappella.
This seven-game winning streak that the Lions are currently riding has been a dual effort between the talent of this team and the relentless support of the fans week-in and week-out. When Penn State trailed Minnesota 13-3 in the rain just one week after a brutal 49-10 loss to Michigan, a majority of the stadium was stalwart in its support and got to witness Saquon Barkley’s high-stepping, walk-off overtime touchdown. When Ohio State took a 21-7 lead after the third quarter on a cold, wet night, the fans only grew louder, and were rewarded with the memory of storming the field and singing the Alma mater arm-in-arm with players after knocking off the No. 2 team in the nation.
And on Saturday, when Penn State knocked just three field goals through the posts in the first half against a team that has allowed 38 points per game this season — and on the road nonetheless — the fans endured the elements. Sure enough, the Lions hit their stride and rattled off 30 second-half points to take down Rutgers.
There is no question that Penn State was the better team on Saturday. However, in a closely contested contest and regardless of talent, the crowd has the ability to make a difference. Although the 39-0 final score might not imply it, there wasn’t much breathing room at half time. Penn State fans, loyal and true, were the ones who stayed all night and showed how much of a role a resolute crowd can play, no matter what stadium the game is being played in.
Penn State fans were at their best on Saturday in Piscataway and it’s that support that has played a major role in the Nittany Lions’ success this season.