What It Was Like To Finally Lose At Beaver Stadium
Few fans have started their Blue and White lives better than the Class of 2020 and I have.
We watched Penn State rattle off back-to-back 10-2 regular seasons, win the Big Ten, play in the Rose Bowl, win the Fiesta Bowl, and have a first-round draft pick following the most turbulent era in program history. During that span, the team never lost at home. Every home game ended in players ringing the victory bell and students skipping down the concourse to powerful “We Are!” cheers.
We never left the student section asking “What if?” or playing back particularly heartbreaking sequences in our minds. (After doing this once, I can tell you that it sucks — although if you’re reading this post about the trials and tribulations of being a Penn State fan, you’ve probably done it way more than I have.)
Instead, we gleefully wandered back to the tailgate lots, to our dorms and apartments for postgame celebrations, and on one particularly special night, to Beaver Canyon.
For two years, I was spoiled enough to wonder what the long walk back from Beaver Stadium would be like after a loss. The whimsical fan inside of me had this false sense of confidence that Penn State would simply never lose again at home and that we were all witnessing a historic winning streak, like the insane run of 58 straight home wins Miami rode in the 80s and 90s. However, my inner cynic, who unfortunately is closer in touch with reality for most things when it comes to sports, knew the day of a Beaver Stadium loss was imminent.
And, finally, it came, three home games into the 2018 season, which will bring two more ranked opponents to Happy Valley.
Even when McSorley did everything in his power to will Penn State to another win, it wasn’t enough. The strange play call on fourth down gave what had been an exciting game the most anti-climatic ending and left Beaver Stadium in this weird silence.
It also solidified the first loss I’ve seen at Beaver Stadium and triggered one of the most cliché Penn State experiences and revelations.
Some of the most memorable moments of my college career have come during the singing of the alma mater — whether it’s standing arm-in-arm on the field with Shane Simmons after the 2016 White Out, thinking about a national championship after last year’s White Out, or letting out more than one giddy “oh shit” of relief after this year’s Appalachian State game. I could tell you who I was with, what words I messed up, and who shot me a dirty look when I yelled out “So free!”
For two and a half seasons, I had heard that we always stay until the alma mater is sung. And I believed it, never once even entertaining the idea of leaving a game because it was “too cold” or “too boring and lopsided.”
But on Saturday, I realized we truly stay until the alma mater is sung. And although it is the same song we begin and end every game with, it showed me a new dimension of what it means to be a Penn Stater.
As the song began, you could hear the tired disappointment and frustration in the voices of the surprisingly sizable crowd that had stuck around past the tragic fourth-and-five call. Although the number of students who had stayed impressed me, this rendition began exactly how I had expected it would — soft, monotone, and dejected. The “left!” to begin the song was weak, and only a few others shrieked the responding “So free!” with me.
But then the transitional “Bum-bum-bum-bum” came. And it changed the entire mood of the stadium.
This instrumental transition when we jump up and down and fall over each other out of jubilation is always my favorite part of the alma mater. On Saturday, it was no different. The way it lifted everyone up (for a few moments at least) redefined its meaning to me. The voices were powerful. I was laughing. You may have even forgotten for a brief moment that Penn State had lost.
When the song ended, the bliss passed as many stood in a standstill to exit the stadium for as long as 40 minutes and realized their dreams of trips to Indy and the Playoff were likely waning. But for a short time, I wasn’t thinking about the outcome or the end result of this season. All I cared about was feeling a part of the tradition at Penn State and sharing that bond with 22,000 other students every fall Saturday.
Figuratively speaking, Penn State fans have “stayed until the alma mater is sung” for the past six years through the scandal and sanctions. They suffered through the uncertainty, 7-5 seasons, and John Donovan bubble screens. Now, they’re already enjoying a brand of football where losing by one point to a top-five team is considered a season-crushing calamity.
“May no act of ours bring shame” is always the loudest line of the alma mater, because it’s when fans begin aggressively shouting out the lyrics. On Saturday, it was once again the most powerful and most moving. I had always likened this line to simply acting with honor and respect as a student, as a fan, and as a representative of the university.
But what if it’s the whole point of staying for the alma mater? That regardless of a game’s outcome or a team’s success, certain things will never waver. No act, loss, or season will bring shame or keep us from staying until the very end and coming back the next week to dance around to “Zombie Nation” and continue the tradition.
Who knows if this is what Fred Lewis Pattee was going for when he originally wrote the song. But for the first time ever, I’m realizing there’s so much more to cheering for Penn State than thinking about the playoffs and scoreboard watching to see how the rankings will change.
The funny part is that the Playoff aren’t exactly out of the question yet. Maybe this is just the type of extreme reaction you have when you’re spoiled enough to have never seen someone other than McSorley play quarterback and to enter every game with the expectation of winning.
Or maybe I just never truly understood why we do things the ways we do them.
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About the Author
Onward State is hiring for the upcoming semester and looking for new folks to join our team and help tell the Penn State story.
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