It’s Superb Owl week, and while I only give the tiniest of figs who wins (I want Cincinnati to win because I think Sean McVay, the coach of the Rams, is wildly overrated, but I don’t care all that much), I figured I’d ask a sports ball question this week! People who follow sports religiously are, of course, just nerds who like a more socially acceptable thing (Brady-vs-Rodgers is Hulk-vs-Thor, basically, and have you ever heard two sports ball pundits talk about fWAR or QBR or True Shooting Percentage?), so we can talk about sports ball here!
I’ve never gone to a lot of sporting events, mainly because they cost a lot and my dad didn’t take me to a lot when I was but a lad. I watch a lot of sports, but I don’t go in person. That being said, I have been to some cool sporting events. I saw the “centenary match” between Carlton and Collingwood in person in 1992 at the Melbourne Cricket Grounds, and that was a ton o’ fun. I had a grand time in 1991 at Rec Hall at Penn State watching a basketball game against Temple (which the Lions lost, but the atmosphere was excellent). The best sporting event I have ever attended, however, was on 16 November 1991, when Penn State defeated Notre Dame at Beaver Stadium, 35-13. No, it was not a particularly good game. But herein lies a tale.
The year before, on 17 November 1990, Penn State played Notre Dame in Indiana. The Fighting Irish were ranked #1 at the time, and while Penn State was 7-2 (the Irish were 8-1), Notre Dame was still heavily favored – they were playing at home and the national media always – even today, over 30 years after their last National Championship – gives Notre Dame the benefit of the doubt. I was watching the game at an apartment of a friend on Beaver Avenue (James Beaver was the governor of Pennsylvania in the late 1800s and the president of the university’s board of trustees, so he gets things named after him!), which runs through downtown State College. Notre Dame got out to a 21-7 halftime lead, and things did not look good. Penn State quarterback Tony Sacca brought the team back, the defense shut out the Irish in the second half, and Craig Fayak made a field goal at the end for the upset, 24-21. It was pretty epic.
Here’s the thing: the game was on the road, as I mentioned. But it was such a great win that people flooded the streets of town, cheering and screaming. At some point, someone near us (not me, and not anyone I knew) got the idea to … storm the field. The stadium, needless to say, was over a mile away (here’s a map; I was near where the Tavern is marked on it), but many people were well lubricated (I don’t think I was, but I may have been) and that didn’t seem like too crazy an idea. So we started walking, jogging, or running up to the stadium, picking up mobs as we went along (who knows, others might have had the same idea). We reached the stadium and found it dark and locked (because the game was on the road!!!!!), and at that point, I went the hell home – it was a November night in Pennsylvania, and it was getting pretty danged cold. The next day I found out that students actually got into the stadium, tore down the goalposts, and paraded up College Avenue (the other main road through downtown – it went one direction and Beaver Avenue went the other) with them before eventually depositing them on Joe Paterno’s front yard. It was a pretty good night.
The next year, Notre Dame wasn’t quite as good, but both teams were still 8-2 coming into the game. The game wasn’t in doubt very early on (Penn State got out to a 21-0 lead), and by the fourth quarter, the students were getting rowdy. We all began chanting “goalposts” as the clock ticked down, and the university had wisely hired extra cops for the game, and they patrolled the sidelines, waiting for students to storm the field. When the game ended, we all went down to get onto the field. One person would go and get tackled by the cops, and a bunch of others would make it in the confusion. I was down on the field with some friends, and we went toward one set of goalposts but found them blocked by the cops, so we tried the other end of the field, but while some people managed to climb onto them, it wasn’t enough and they stayed upright (I never went anywhere near them, because I was just enjoying milling about). The cops eventually pepper-sprayed us, something they denied, but something melted my friend’s contact lens, so I think they were probably lying. Eventually we all went home, but it was still an excellent evening.
I liked going to Penn State games back then. The student section was pretty raucous, and we were able to smuggle in marshmallows and throw them at each other and onto the field (you can see them on the field in the video above, and you can see one almost hit a Notre Dame returner on a kickoff). I imagine some schmuck snuck something hard into the game at some point and it hurt someone, because nobody’s allowed to chuck anything anymore. The atmosphere was always electric (it still is, I imagine, as Penn State has always had rabid fans), and the team usually won. But that evening was the most fun I’ve had at a sporting event, and it didn’t really have too much to do with the actual game.
What was your favorite sporting event that you’ve actually attended? Was it just a great game, or was it for some other reason, like my favorite? Don’t be shy!