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Penn State: This Is Your Moment

by on September 24, 2009 7:42 AM

Years ago, legendary Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant was asked why college football was such a big deal on campuses.

“Because it’s hard to rally around a math class.”

As a student who had a hard time rallying for my own math classes, I can appreciate the sentiment.

This weekend, Penn Staters on campus and around the world will have something big to rally around. Saturday night a nationwide television audience will be treated to images and action from Beaver Stadium. People who have never been here will watch the game and be struck by the atmosphere and the images beamed into their homes.

While Penn State is so much bigger than any one department or certainly any one sport, college football has had a positive impact on this university’s reputation. Penn State’s name is universally recognized in survey after survey as being a top-flight brand. Compare our image to the images of universities who have had high-profile scandals in their athletic departments.

As a Penn Stater, I appreciate the fact that we’ve had world-class leadership in so many facets of this school. Penn State’s leadership has rightly seen ethical athletic success as something to enhance the image of our proud university.

As we approach a weekend of national exposure — from ESPN’s GameDay broadcast, through the prime-time telecast — we have another opportunity to showcase Penn State.

In 2005 we hosted Ohio State for a primetime national telecast. That game was a watershed moment for our football program, for our university and for sports marketing all over the country.

That White Out, the student section, the enthusiasm and noise level of that crowd earned us an entirely new image. We were dubbed “The Greatest Show In College Sports” by Sports Illustrated.

The impact went far beyond our athletic department. Applications to Penn State rocketed upward that year. High school students all over America saw something in our students. They saw unified, energized students — students who loved their school — and many decided that they wanted to be part of that.

What our students did was also noticed by sports marketing departments at all levels nationwide.

The idea of a crowd dressing in one color was not new when Penn State declared the White Out for Ohio State — but it was an idea that had faded from sports marketing over the years. On that Saturday night, people witnessed the White Out, the energy of that crowd and how they helped to will their team to victory.

Since that moment you’ve seen teams in all levels of sports try to capture that same energy. Imitation is the highest form of flattery. In June of 2006 the Miami Heat called for White Outs during the NBA Finals. More recently, the Pittsburgh Penguins called White Outs in the Stanley Cup Finals.

We have proven to be leaders, but now the page has turned. This team, this year’s students have their moment, their time. This is the time to make Penn State’s name for the next generation of students.

Driving to work on Monday morning, I saw hundreds of students already at Paternoville. They gathered to sit all day, so they could camp all week to stand all day Saturday to get to their seats and stand all game. They have made Paternoville the hottest real estate market in the country — one housing market that has never cooled.

Our students have plans to “White Out” the GameDay Telecast Saturday morning at 10. They are calling for people to forgo signs with clever (or not-so-clever) slogans and instead hold up plain white signs. They have decided to do something unique and to take it to another level — it never fails to amaze me how creative our students can be.

But the main event is Saturday night. Penn State students, alumni and fans can show the country what we are all about. Once again “The Greatest Show in College Football” opens the gates to a wave of passion, excitement, enthusiasm, energy and most importantly class.

Keep that last word in mind — CLASS. Penn State has always been a Class Act and remember that we are showcasing what we stand for to the rest of America.

Perhaps no one ever said it better than former Penn State President Eric Walker when he spoke to the class of 1958:

“Wherever you go, Penn State will go with you. You are now a part of her. Her image will be cast in your image. Your reputation will become her reputation. And her future —her ability to prepare future generations of young men and women for leadership in our complex society — will be determined in part by the image you create.”

Saturday night we have a chance to enhance Penn State’s image. Be loud, be involved, help influence the outcome. Our moment is at hand, our time to let the world peer into our world and see the kind of people we are, the kind of university that we are…

What better way to end than with those two words: We Are.



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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