Once the fall football season ends, most Penn Staters look forward to that third or fourth Saturday in April, when spring football is in the air. The Blue-White Weekend has become something bigger than just a spring football scrimmage; it has become an event in its own right drawing crowds in excess of 60,000.
This year took on an added dimension, with the change in regime within the football program. Where in the past I would look to say “hi” to a number of the football coaches that my family has become friends with, this year’s Blue-White football game would be like a first date: a lot of uncertainty, nervousness and excitement rolled into one.
Our family (actually, just part of the family, consisting of the two youngest of six daughters, my husband and I) had a full agenda for the weekend, but going to the game would be the main event for us.
The excitement of coming back to Penn State built as we could see Beaver Stadium from the highway. We were somewhat disappointed in that we were not staying in our favorite hotel, the Penn Stater Conference Center, as at the time of booking the reservation they had no availability. As we exited the highway, we would pass the Penn Stater. I asked my husband to stop in and see if there were any cancellations.
Dion went in and minutes later, returned to the car jumping in the air with a fist raised. Taking a chance and getting a last minute room at your favorite hotel will do that to you.
That Friday afternoon, we passed on the carnival activities, as we had our regular visits to make. We had to see Lorrie, the manager of the Penn State Bookstore annex (next to the All Sports Museum that is built in to Beaver Stadium), as she has been like extended family to us, seeing our oldest two daughters grow to become Penn State students and greeting the other four with hugs throughout the years. She introduces us each time to new people as “The Rumsey’s from New York City, with six daughters.”
We took pictures of our 20 month old, Elizah, kissing our family brick built into the Beaver Stadium wall. It is a family tradition to kiss the brick before each home game. We took pictures of the kids by the Nittany Lion Shrine and walked through the Hintz Alumni Courtyard, attempting to figure out where our recently ordered commemorative brick would be placed.
We were hungry, so we headed over to see Pat, the person who runs CC Peppers at the Walmart Plaza on North Atherton, who makes the best cheesesteaks EVER!
A good friend of our family, former Penn State football player Rick Sayles, was holding a benefit dinner for his foundation, Penn’s Civilians, that night. Dion texted Rick, who said to show up no matter what we looked like. We got to the venue in our travel wear (shorts and t-shirts), completely underdressed, with no intention of going in. We were there to just say hello, show our support, and sneak out with our dignity. Just as Curt Marshall, (Board President of Penn’s Civilians and also a friend of the family) was introducing Rick to the crowd, Rick was exchanging hugs with the family. While our attire embarrassed me, Rick could care less and invited us in.
Our short stay led to a silent auction donation and the receipt of an autographed photo of one of my true inspirations, Heisman Trophy winner John Cappiletti!
Now it was off to one of our best friend’s (Gary and Ame), condominium just up the street from Beaver Stadium for a quick potluck dinner that was being held by all of the residents, some of whom we have become friendly with. We did not stay long, but shared hellos and hugs with many people.
Day one of our Blue-White Weekend was in the books.
Now Saturday, Game Day! Time for the tailgate. Gary and Dion paid tribute to Coach Paterno by wearing black sneakers that Gary had bought the two of them, rolled up khakis, and button down shirts with ties. Needless to say they looked like JoePa, with the exception of Joe having more hair than either of them probably ever had. Basically, they were two bald versions of Coach Paterno. It didn’t matter, as many people gave them their “thumbs up” approval for their tribute.
This happened to be Elizah’s first real tailgate, where she was old enough to actively participate and have fun. She made her way from tailgate to tailgate, greeting Penn Staters with a very cordial and enthusiastic “Hi!” before reaching for any eye level finger food. It was a case of “take food, smile brightly, and have mommy beg forgiveness on her behalf”.
The afternoon was spent at JoePa’s gravesite, which our family has visited at least once a month to pay our respects. Our daughter had placed a candle there back in February, which, to our surprise, was still present this April day. Although it was a quick trip to see “G-Pa” as our kids had called him in their younger days, it was emotional. We all miss him dearly.
On Sunday, the four of us were walking as a family in The Special Olympics Walk/Run. The weather was just awful. It was windy, cold, and the threat of rain hovered over State College. It was quite the spirited event that saw Sue Paterno standing next to us dancing up a storm before the start of the walk. Jay Paterno, a dear friend of ours, kicked off the event with a rousing speech to the crowd.
We were able to spend time with him and I wanted a photo with him. Jay’s reply was “Aren’t you tired of pictures after last week’s wedding? You guys all looked so beautiful.” He obviously had seen the hundreds of pictures from our daughter’s wedding. He spends SO much of his time comforting others who are struggling with his dad’s passing; it was good to see him in such great spirits.
We spent more time with Jay on the field after the walk, as our 10 year-old tricked him by tapping him on the left shoulder and ducking to the other side, drawing a huge laugh from everyone. We shared a hug with Jay’s wife Kelley, who was so happy to see us, and wanted to make sure we had a chance to see Jay.
The walk was an extended family reunion, as we ran into a number of Dion’s teammates from the Penn State Football Fantasy Camp, neighbors from our friend’s condominium in State College, and friends from our tailgate on Saturday. We did not want to leave, and as usual, found ourselves one of the last to exit the stadium.
While having lunch after the walk, we wanted to stay another day. Dion left the table and went out to the front desk. Dion returned to Legends with the same triumphant leap he demonstrated when we first showed up at the Penn Stater. Of course they had a room for us, and we could stay in the same room another night.
Monday had us returning home to New York City. But before we started the four hour drive, we grabbed seven half gallons of Cremery ice-cream to take home and share with our neighbors and friends.
The Blue-White game? There was a game that weekend? We NEVER went in to the game. As it turns out, the game was the least of our worries during our visit to our home away from home.