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For thousands of Penn State fans, food just tastes better at a Beaver Stadium tailgate

by on September 27, 2018 11:41 AM

Rain or shine, sleet or snow, tailgating before football games is a century-old tradition, and many die-hard fans arrive early in the morning, hours before kickoff, to set up and begin the festivities.

Nothing is better than surrounding yourself with fellow Nittany Lions fans outside Beaver Stadium on a Saturday morning eating good food, sharing a few cold libations, and chanting, “We Are … PENN STATE!”

The camaraderie and revelry that brings fans together is a huge part of every football weekend at Penn State. Home football games can draw more than 107,000 fans to State College, all congregating onto a 500-acre open-field area around Beaver Stadium, making Penn State one of the top tailgating spots in college football.

There is also a real sense of hospitality at Penn State tailgates, where everyone is welcome, including fans of the visiting teams. Walking through the tailgating lots, there are RVs decked out in blue and white, satellite dishes hooked up to flat-screen TVs, games of corn hole, grilled hot dogs and burgers, and elaborate catering spreads serving everything from smoked wings to oven-baked pizzas.

Mechanical engineering grad Paul Frankhouser (Penn State ’65) has been tailgating for more than 25 years. Most people may not know his name, but it’s hard to miss his iconic blue wig, magnetic personality, and white Penn State Hummer parked in the grass lot in front of the visitors “will call” ticket booth outside the Northeast end of Beaver Stadium. Thousands of fans – Penn Staters and visitors alike – have stopped at Frankhouser’s highly spirited tailgate to talk football, take pictures with him, and touch the “Penn State Rock” for good luck.

“You have got to really believe and super-enthusiastically touch the rock, shouting as loud as possible, “GO PENN STATE!” explains Frankhouser. “The magic rock will then do the rest by sending your energy to our players on the field.”

He has won the Most Penn State Spirit award four times and in 2012, he was awarded the Tailgate Competition Lifetime Spirit Award “in honor of his dedication to spreading love and loyalty to the Penn State community in the most spirited way.”

There are three simple rules for his tailgate:

“First, have an attitude that you are here to have a good time. Secondly, don’t get drunk. And lastly, respect the Penn State code of honor and welcome all visiting fans,” says Frankhouser.

At Frankhouser’s tailgate before Penn State’s season-opening game, against Appalachian State on September 1, visiting fans Charlie Hartman and his son-in-law Will DeVore of Charlotte, North Carolina, were grilling burgers and hot dogs.

“I used to play for Appalachian State and my son-in-law bought me these tickets for Christmas last year. We actually just met Frankhouser and he invited us to tailgate with him,” says Hartman. “It’s wonderful to feel so welcomed here in Happy Valley.”

Countless cherished memories are made at tailgates and for two Penn State alums, Julio Rodriguez (’01) and Raquel Fernandez (’08), September 1, 2018, will forever be ingrained as the day they got engaged at their tailgate with the marching Blue Band.

“We are a close-knit group of friends, all Penn Staters, who come annually to tailgate,” says Rodriguez.

Fernandez and Blue Band director Gregory Drane are friends. Special arrangements were made by Rodriguez, with the help of Drane, to surprise Fernandez at the tailgate with bottles of champagne and Rodriguez’s marriage proposal.

“Penn State has been such a big part of our lives, so I thought it would be fitting for me to ask Raquel to spend the rest of her life with me here on the same fields we met five years ago at a Blue-White game. And she said, ‘Yes!’”

Some people hunt, others golf, Paul Podwika tailgates.

“I have been tailgating since the 1970s and this is the sixth season in the reserved RV lot, across Park Avenue, with our 1976 RV named ‘The Beast,’” says Podwika. “There are 10 of us TKE fraternity brothers, class of 1976, who pitch in every year to reserve this spot.” 

The RV is covered in photos of the TKE house, Joe Paterno, the Lion Shrine, Beaver Stadium, and quarterback Christian Hackenberg. It has front racks for coolers and a custom rear rack for storing serving-tables and Podwika’s PSU pizza oven. Podwika makes about 12 pizzas at his tailgate, including a breakfast pizza, a Reuben-style pizza, a meatball pizza, and his famous buffalo chicken pizza.

“I run the oven at 500 degrees and it takes about 10 minutes for each pizza,” says Podwika. “We have won the Penn State tailgate cooking competition four years in a row.”

The food at tailgates has increasingly become more elaborate, with some people hauling in smokers and fryers.

Cam Capurso is a performance director of Power Train Sport and Fitness in State College with a passion for cooking. “People come over, following the smell of my smoker, and say to me, ‘This is kind of ridiculous,’ and I say to them, ‘Yes it is, would you like some ridiculousness in your life?’” Capurso says with a chuckle.

“I am booked at a different spot every home football weekend and I bring an oven, a griddle, a smoker, a fryer, and a grill to cook everything up here, from cherry-hickory smoked wings and whiskey-glazed, bacon-wrapped pork tenderloins to tequila-lime green chili served with jalapeno cornbread. I have also done a setup for a taco bar.”

No tailgate is complete without some chips and dips, from buffalo chicken to our hometown favorite, Herlocher dipping mustard. Whether you have tickets to the game or just go to tailgate, you will find foods of every variety imaginable as well as friendly, fellow tailgaters who won’t let you leave without feeding you or quenching your thirst with a cold beverage.

Vilma Shu is general manager of Town&Gown.

 

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