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Growing Up With Beaver Stadium and Penn State Football

by on July 29, 2010 7:00 AM

The Penn State Football Media Guide arrived this week. In my youth, media guide day was up there with Christmas and birthdays. I looked forward to seeing the new cover, statistics, all-time results and the bios of All-Americans. The media guide’s arrival meant football season was near.

This year’s cover celebrates the 50-year anniversary of Beaver Stadium’s relocation to the current site. Beaver Stadium has been a good home, hosting 242 Penn State wins and zero ties in 301 games.

The grand palace of Penn State football has never seen better days than the present. There are weekly camp outs and a fan base recognized as the nation’s best. Sports Illustrated called it “The Greatest Show in College Sports.” Where fans used to clap politely after a good play, now they’ve become a loud intimidating weapon in the team’s arsenal.

My first trip to Beaver Stadium happened in 1973 when I was turning five. I lived for football Saturdays, quickly joining the ranks of Penn State football addicts. Even when sick I’d rise like Lazarus to get to Beaver Stadium.

In the early 1970s I sat in the open end zone bleachers. After the 1978 expansion I sat in SK -- the “Kids’ Section,” where kids sat at the price of (I hope you’re sitting down for this) $4 a game. The price jumped to $6 a game. Adjusting for the rate of inflation, that 1978 ticket would cost just over $20 today.

I sat in the end zone all the way until the 1983 season, when I started working in the press box for Sports Information. 

Working at the stadium was something a lot of my friends did. Whether it was selling Cokes (Coca-Cola was the official PSU drink then) or programs, parking cars or scalping tickets, there were a lot of jobs that State College kids worked on game days.

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My job paid $15 and I got to consume all the Coke and lukewarm water-logged hot dogs I could stomach. My job was to call the ABC Sports hotline and get the “Scores of Other Games” for the public address announcer.

I’d listen to and write down the scores starting with the Top 20 (they only ranked 20 teams then). The P.A. announcer was looking for Top 20 games and our opponents’ games. I loved getting a score with Notre Dame or Pitt losing so I could hear the crowd cheer when the score was read.

In high school I was a spotter helping out the men running the newest computer technology that tracked the stats of the game. The computer compiled the stats that had always been tabulated by hand. It was a big leap forward.

A lot has changed over the years. Most of it for the better—the place is bigger and more accessible.

Despite changes, that which endures are what we hold dearest. There are traditions shared by many, meeting at the General Beaver Rock, the drum major flip, the white outs, the victory bell and the acres of motor homes.

There are also people and families with their own unique routines and traditions—family traditions that have existed for many years. On game days I walk from my parents’ home to the stadium. I see many of the tailgaters in the same place every week, year after year. The families grow and age. I talk with some on my way; one family always reminds me to throw it to the tight end.

Seeing the fans and tailgaters reminds me of the pull of this place and the role it plays as a connective force in so many lives.

Games at Beaver Stadium are the common bond that pulls the threads of these individual traditions together over a football weekend. When the ball is kicked in the air, these 109,000 threads weave into a common tapestry that is breathtaking to behold.

All these years later, my game day job is different. It's a little more stressful, but I love game day at Beaver Stadium more and more every year. I see in my own children’s faces the anticipation and excitement of a home game.

I’m reminded of the excitement I felt as a kid on a Tuesday night watching the temporary lights being brought into town for the 1982 Nebraska showdown. The wait from that Tuesday night to kickoff was the longest week of school in my life. Even now I can hardly wait for the games each Saturday.

On Friday nights I drive past the empty stadium and I slow down to look. At bedtime it takes a little longer to fall asleep, and I am a kid again.

That’s the hold a football Saturday in Beaver Stadium has on all of us. We keep returning because Beaver Stadium endures as a place where we reconnect with days gone by, our family, our friends and a part of ourselves that is a little younger, a little more vibrant and willing to be lost in the excitement.



State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JayPaterno
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