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Sympathy for the Punter (and the Cold, Wet Fans)

by on September 11, 2018 5:00 AM

Rain, rain, go away, come again some other day.

Anyone else notice that Happy Valley, and most of Pennsylvania, got wet the last few days? As in constant, never-ending, how-can-it-possibly-keep-raining-that-long wet? Doesn’t it make sense that it should only be able to rain so long before the moisture in the air runs out and it stops? Apparently not. Our son remarked that this must be what it’s like to live in England – cold and damp all the time.

Of course, in England one of the most popular sports to watch when you want to go to cheer on your favorite team is soccer – or as they call it, football. And when you go to watch the top tier of English football you will sit in a stadium where they have taken into account the likelihood of cold and damp weather. Every Premier League stadium has at least a partial roof over the seats to shield the fans from rain – or snow and sleet.

I have always found this interesting. American football, the most popular sport to watch in our country, is mostly played in stadiums which are completely open. Some seats might be covered by cantilevered seats above them, but domed stadiums aside, none make an effort to shield the fans from the elements. Hard Rock Stadium in Miami (still Joe Robbie Stadium to many of us old-time Floridians) being the lone exception.

Why is it we can’t seem to put a roof over our fans for those occasions when Mother Nature throws us a curveball in the form of a deluge?

This past Saturday night was a great example of the potential benefits of such a design. I’m sure many of you -- millions of you in fact -- did as our family did, and spent Saturday night in front of a large television screen in the dryness and warmth of our own home watching the 99th gridiron meeting of Penn State and Pitt.

However, 65,000 or so people spent hard-earned cash to be inside Heinz Field and watch the game in person. Their experience was not as dry and warm. Rain, rain, and more rain. Temperatures 40 degrees below those of the previous days. The quality of that experience was evidenced at the start of the second half of the game when the television announcers mentioned it appeared many fans had left their seats for the cover underneath the stands – or their cars – and weren’t coming back. And having spent the better part of the day sitting in the stands at Mansion Park in Altoona watching high school soccer, I couldn’t blame them. Bone-chilling wet makes even the most fervent fans question their devotional limits.

As Penn State fans we were certainly pleased with the outcome of the game. Even though this in-state game has only been played four times this century there is still a small element of bragging rights associated with it and, well, Penn State has them for another year.

Except, the manner in which those bragging rights were obtained was just a little disappointing for some members of our family. Not from anything Penn State did though. But that aforementioned bone-chilling wet may have played a part in the performance, or lack thereof, of one particular member of the Pitt football team.

Kirk Christodoulou, the redshirt freshman punter for the Pittsburgh Panthers, had a few issues during the game. Kirk is an Australian who excelled at Australian rules football and decided he wanted to play college football in America. He spent a year training with a program that has produced many successful collegiate and NFL punters, enrolled at Pitt, redshirted during last season, and punted twice in Pitt’s season-opening win against Albany the previous week.

So, coming in to this signature Penn State versus Pitt game with statewide importance, national implications, and a sold-out NFL stadium, he had all of two punts in a Division I college game. Both came in the fourth quarter of a game that was already decided. Both were good punts, by the way.

None of which, under normal circumstances, would be cause for concern by us, the fans of the opposing team. Muff an extra-point snap and get tackled? Good for us! Tough handle on a field goal snap and miss three points? Yay Penn State! Bobble a punt snap and get tackled for a loss that sets up an easy Penn State touchdown? Way to go! Shank a punt? Good field position for us!

Except these weren’t perfectly normal circumstances.

This past summer our son decided to attend a Pitt football specialist camp and try punting. As a soccer goalie he had plenty of experience punting a soccer ball, but none punting a football. After contacting Pitt’s special teams coach and being assured it was OK to attend given he was a first-time football punter, he went. (And yes, the decision to do this at Pitt did cause consternation for some of us – but when your kids want to try something, well, you learn to suck it up!)

At the camp our son was mentored by Kirk. And he thought Kirk was fantastic. Kirk’s attitude, mindset, skill, humor, hat and barefoot ways all made for a great experience by our son.

And so as we watched the Penn State game unfold,  and Kirk experienced one problem after another, that it was not completely joyful for us. Here was a nice young man, someone’s kid, undergoing a difficult time in front of tens of thousands of cold and wet people, and millions more in front of TV screens across the state and country, and it was humanizing.

We feel your pain Kirk, and wish you all the best the rest of the season. Although we reserve the right to bring up 48-14 to those Pitt fans who occasionally annoy us.

Now if someone could just put a roof over the stands in Beaver Stadium.



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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