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Raising a Pint to a New Era at Beaver Stadium

by on July 18, 2017 5:00 AM

Friday, July 7, 2017 at 7 p.m. EDT was a watershed relationship moment for me. A longtime friend and I took our bond to a new level, and I’m looking forward to seeing where this leads.

I set foot in Beaver Stadium for the first time in my life on Sept. 30, 1972 for a football game between Penn State and Iowa. The capacity of Beaver Stadium that day was 57,538. Since then it has almost doubled and at 106,572 today it is the second-largest stadium in the nation. I still have the game program my dad bought for me when we entered the stands. The “beaver stadium pictorial” for that game – it was in vogue in the early 70’s to use lower-case letters for cover titles – featured an extreme facial close-up of linebacker John Skorupan and included 80 pages of information, photos, stories and ads that I look through every once in awhile for a trip down memory lane.

Of everything in that program, the ads provide the best “time-capsule” moments. You could buy a car on West College Avenue manufactured by Opel. A Zenith color television was housed in a big box, and it’s possible the screen was manufactured at Corning’s television picture tube plant located by the Nittany Mall. O.W. Houts, the AutoPort and Eutaw House were all in business.

But surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly given the pace of Happy Valley, the ads show there are many more things that have changed little to the average consumer. Hotels have changed names and owners – the Holiday Inn is now the Ramada; the Sheraton is now the Days Inn; The Dutch Pantry is Faccia Luna and Happy Valley Inn. Banks have changed names as well, such as Central Counties Bank and Mid-State Bank. Then there are the stalwarts -- Jack Harper is still here, as are The Tavern, Whitehill Lighting, Hotel State College, Burger King, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Nittany Mall, Toftrees, HiWay Pizza, Duffy’s Tavern, and Bellefonte KOA.

This pace of change (some might call it glacial) is the reason my recent relationship moment was of the watershed variety. At that date and time – 7 p.m., 7/7/17 – I stood on the field of Beaver Stadium, handed a nice staffer a crisp five-dollar bill, and was given, legally and graciously, a cold 16-ounce can of Yuengling Lager. That’s a beer, for the uninitiated.

Just standing on the field at Beaver Stadium is in and of itself a transformative moment. Although I was standing on the field, to be accurate I wasn’t standing on the hallowed sod tended by one of the greatest grounds crews in the country. Being at a school which offers a professional certificate in turfgrass management means good grass is a highly coveted commodity. All the publicly accessible areas of grass had been covered by a substantial plastic material that was an inch or two thick.

Although I wasn’t standing directly on the grass that day, several years earlier I had been initiated into the club of those who have trod on the turf when on Sunday, April 24, 2010, at the inaugural Paterno Family Beaver Stadium Run for Special Olympics of Pennsylvania I was one of a thousand or so who finished that 5K run at the 50-yard line.

And what a transformative experience it is. Since my first visit in 1972 I had been inside the stadium countless times and had seen the field from just about every section (save the press box) and every level. But I had never been on the field. When football players are interviewed, every so often one will comment how special it is running out of the tunnel, about the feeling of looking up at 100,000 people in the stands, and of the volume of the noise. And until you have been on the field I don’t know if you can appreciate the enormity of the place. Even sitting in the first row is not quite the same as being out on the field. Granted I have never been out there when the stands were full – or even partially full – but when you stand on the 50-yard line and look up and around, the scale of the stadium really hits home. It’s a BIG place.

So here I was, a little more than a week ago, being served an alcoholic beverage, within the letter of all applicable laws and with the university’s compliance, on the field where until just seven years ago, only a select few ever got the opportunity to be. And the reason I was allowed to do this was because we – my wife and I – had monetarily supported the Nittany Lion Club during the previous five years.

Then the very next day the first truly public sale of alcoholic beverages inside Beaver Stadium took place in conjunction with the Happy Valley Jam concert – also the first-ever concert there.

For 45 years I had been visiting this venue, just a few times a year, for the sole purpose of watching college football. Seven years ago I had the opportunity to access the field and view the space in a way only a select few had ever seen it. And now, I not only had access to the field but in the span of one evening purchased a beer and saw a live concert.

Talk about a changing relationship. Beaver Stadium and I have absolutely moved to a new level and I am excited to see where this goes.


John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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