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He’s the Chinese Scholar Who Loves the Lions

by on September 27, 2019 4:30 AM

At first glance, Anderson Tang appears an unlikely candidate for membership in Nittany Nation. Born and raised in a small town in China’s Jiangxi Province, he’s a post-doctoral physics researcher at Penn State. But regardless of his faraway upbringing or his lofty education, this guy is as rabid in his love of the Lions as anyone I know.

That’s not to say that Anderson has lost focus on things at home. He loves China, and he knows her history all the way back to the original Xia Dynasty.  Having said that, he probably knows more about the Joe Dynasty. It wasn’t long after Anderson’s arrival in State College more than 10 years ago that he embraced Nittany Lion football and the team’s legendary coach, Joe Paterno.

“I was a soccer fan before I came here,” says Anderson as he begins to tell the story of his conversion to Penn State football. “I liked to watch the Italian Serie A or the China national team. But when I got here, it turned out that not many soccer games were broadcast. And then it was September, and football was everywhere, everywhere.”    

You couldn’t blame Anderson if he was slow to get excited about football. Some Chinese view the game as too violent. Others may be deterred by the name of the sport as it is titled in Chinese. Not wanting to call our non-foot sport by the title of “football,” somebody in China got creative and came up with the term, “meishi (American) ganlanqiu (olive ball).” Doesn’t that sound exciting, an afternoon of watching olive ball? 

FEELING THE PASSION

Still new in State College, the young physicist couldn’t avoid Nittany propaganda. “When I rode the bus to school and back home, every bus had a sign that said, ‘Go, State! Beat Ohio State’ or ‘Go PSU, Beat Northwestern.’  And my neighbors in the apartment next to me, they would go to the game every Saturday. So I’m affected by that, I can feel the passion that the people have for the game. So since there is no soccer game that I can watch, I started to watch Penn State football on TV.” 

Before long, Anderson jumped on the Internet to do a little background research. And he soon encountered the larger-than-life figure of Joe Paterno. 

“I got to know what Joe had done for Penn State, his history, and I got more interested in Penn State football. One of the reasons that I Iiked Penn State is that I was affected by Joe’s personality. If we had another coach when I came here, I may not have become so interested in Penn State football.”  

Tell us more, Anderson. What appealed to you, a physics major from China, when you read about an Italian American football coach from Brooklyn, New York?

IMPRESSED BY PATERNO 

“First of all, it was his loyalty.  His loyalty to Penn State football. You know he turned down a number of NFL jobs — some jobs even offered him a share of the franchise. But after he thought about it, he cared more about the students, those guys on the team, and he decided to stay at Penn State. He cared about their studies, so Penn State’s graduation rate for football players was always high.

“And the other reason is that Joe had a low salary. His salary was low compared to all the other top tier coaches. That appealed to me because he really cared about football. Lots of guys are into coaching just because of the money. For example, Jimbo Fisher.  He left Florida State and went to Texas A&M just because they gave him a high salary. That’s the kind of guy I don’t like.”

And so Anderson gradually evolved into a bona fide Penn Stater. Today, he holds a master’s and a Ph.D. from dear old State and he’s in his fourth year of post-doctoral research here in Happy Valley. Meanwhile, he cheers fervently for the Lions, watches football on TV/YouTube all 12 months of the year, holds his own when talking Penn State trivia and hates all things Ohio State. 

*  *  *

So where did I find this guy named Anderson? (I could tell you his Chinese name, but you probably couldn’t pronounce it any better than I can.) Well, a common friend brought him to our house several years ago to one of the dinners that my wife and I host for international students and scholars. Since then, he’s attended maybe 30-40 of our weekly dinners and helped me enjoy several Lion football games on TV. I say all of that to say this:  I was born in the old Centre County Hospital; Anderson hails from a place some 7,500 miles away. But he can give me a run for my money when we discuss Penn State football, and he’s not the only international who can do that. So when you yell out the phrase, “We are,” you might want to picture that “we” are truly international. 

*  *  *

I guess there’s only one major weakness in Anderson’s C.V. as a Penn State football fan. In all these years, he’s only attended three games at Beaver Stadium, and those games were all during his master’s program. 

So what’s the deal, Anderson? What do you have against the Beav?

“If you go to the game, it takes a lot of time. But if you are watching the game on TV, you can actually do a lot of other things simultaneously. You can just turn on the game but maybe you can do some cleaning in your house, do some laundry or lots of other things. 

“And if you are watching the game on TV, you get more knowledge, because you listen to what those anchors are talking about. I learned all these plays and formations by watching TV.  If you just to go to the stadium to watch the game, you probably don’t know what is an I formation or what is a shotgun, things like that.”


Anderson is clearly at home with the Nittany Lion. (Photo by Bill Horlacher)  

DRAWN BY HIS HEART AND MIND

If you ask Anderson why he follows the Nittany Lions so closely and why he watches other games between top-ranked teams, he mentions both his heart and his mind. “College football is a lot of fun,” he says.  “College alumni and college students really feel pride for their institutions. But I also like football because of the competition and the strategy. Football has the most complex strategy of all sports. There’s so much detail in football rules; sometimes the players don’t even understand what’s happening.”  

And if you ask Anderson to mention his favorite game, he’ll insist on offering two choices: the 2008 win over Ohio State that is best remembered for quarterback Pat Devlin’s heroic relief of injured starter Daryll Clark; and the 2016 win over the Buckeyes that stemmed from Grant Haley’s 60-yard return of a blocked field goal.   

Speaking of the 2016 victory, he says, “I had the happiness of revenge because we hadn’t beat them for a long time and under Urban Meyer, Ohio State was so good. When we won that game I started to believe that we were back to national relevance. I was just feeling really, really great the whole week after we beat Ohio State.”

Even though I’ve known Anderson for several years, I had never sensed feelings as strong as those he expressed when talking about the Buckeyes. Not only did he later use the word “hate” in connection with our Big Ten brothers to the west, but he said a not-so-nice comment about their attire: “the Ohio State uniforms are so ugly.” But I appreciated his fairness when asked for a comment about former Buckeye coach Urban Meyer. “He’s a smart guy,” said Anderson. “And a winner.”

As for why he “hates” Ohio State, it’s a simple matter of wins and losses. “When I was here for my master’s,” he says, “I hated Michigan the most, because Joe Paterno was not able to beat Michigan in that era. But now I hate Ohio State the most. These days, Michigan is done—so there aren’t many reasons to hate Michigan. They have not played well. So I started to hate Ohio State.”

NO ROSE-COLORED GLASSES

My buddy from China is surely a diehard Penn State rooter, but his performance evaluations are done with objectivity. As for this year’s team, he’s like a lot of other folks: pleased by the early wins but worried by some weak tendencies.

“Before the season started,” says Anderson, “I thought we could win nine games in the regular season. But right now, considering the two games I watched against Buffalo and Pittsburgh, the offense is not clicking and the defense can’t get off the field.  It’s third and long or fourth and long and they let the other team convert. They can’t get off the field.”

Anderson is certainly not guilty of wearing either rose-colored glasses or Rose Bowl-colored glasses. “We can win seven or eight regular season games,” says the Ph.D. in physics.


He’s got nothing against Beaver Stadium, but Anderson prefers to watch the Lions on television. (Photo by Bill Horlacher)

HOLDING HIS OWN IN TRIVIA

Should you ever happen to meet this treasure of our community, make sure you challenge him to a game of Penn State football trivia. If you’re like me, you’ll destroy him on questions from long ago, but he’ll make up for that by killing you on topics from recent decades.      

At first, I thought I had stumped Mr. Physics by asking, “Who is Penn State’s only Heisman Trophy winner?”  Could such an easy question really get past my friend? But no, he knew the answer but just couldn’t begin to pronounce the last name of John Cappelletti. Finally, he said, “He was a running back whose name begins with ‘C’.”

We tussled over the question of “What Penn Stater(s) finished second in Heisman voting?” He named Ki-Jana Carter (1994), I named Richie Lucas (1959) and we both forgot about Chuck Fusina (1978).

And then there was the time we discussed the forgettable “Safety Game” when Penn State lost to Iowa in 2004, a monstrosity of a contest. “Wasn’t the score something like 9-4?” I said to Anderson.  “No,” he replied with the utmost in confidence. “It was 6-4.” I’m amazed I could forget that score and impressed that Anderson did not.

As I think about it, China doesn’t have an ambassador to Nittany Nation. But why not? When you’ve got 1.4 billion people, why should such a critical role go empty? Yes, I’m nominating Anderson Tang for the post. He is truly the man for the job.

 



Bill Horlacher is a native of Happy Valley, a 1970 graduate of State College High School and a 1974 graduate of Penn State (journalism). He has spent his last 30 years in service to international students, helping them with personal, cultural and spiritual adjustments to America. After 39 years of living in California, Maryland and Texas, Bill returned to State College in 2013 along with his wife, Kathy.
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