Aron finishes his work for the day and then rushes home to pack the family into their van. Emily has been preparing the four girls for the two hour drive to State College heading west on 80 from Scranton. There's a lot on his plate since the changes at work, luckily it's a late kickoff. Working Saturdays has made things at home tough but the football games give them something to look forward to during the week each fall. The five best memories of his life, if you ask him, happened in State College. He will talk about Tamba Hali, Kerry Collins, Andre Collins, Aaron Collins and that guy from down the hall that jumped off the balcony without getting hurt.
The true best day of his life in State College or anywhere else happened late during their senior spring semester. The day that they took a walk by the creamery and up Curtin Road past the stadium. He told her that he had something that he wanted to ask her. The walk continued for what seemed like miles longer than he had anticipated as he worked up the guts to ask the question. Twelve years and four beautiful daughters later it's clear what the five best memories of his life really have been.
Still Aron feels that there is something uniquely special about each Penn State football game. As time passes and a retrospective light shines on a gameday that he has experienced, it becomes apparent that each game in each year takes on a unique meaning and feel. It's nice to know that this experience is shared by millions of like-minded individuals from many different backgrounds. Different individuals all sharing the same game at the same time, it effecting their emotions in many different ways, with their hearts touched exactly the same. Aron and Emily's family are Penn State. They hope that someday their grandchildren will be Penn State, too.
Nick rolls out of bed a little late on Saturday. The sunlight hurts his eyes but the sun isn't even in his eyes yet. There's a game today, and he has to be there on time or Cari will have his ass. His head throbs to an unfamiliar, un-rhythmic drum beat. Who was that girl that just left? Why did he drink a hard alcohol mixed drink from a tupperware glass to finish the night off? His arm hurts. He searches for his socks but they elude him? No time for any of that, it's off to the stadium. Fifty years from now he will remember this game better than he will tomorrow. For today, his head is foggy and he hasn't had time to put the pieces together. He is Penn State.
Warren smiles at his grand daughter as she feeds his great grand-son Alex, the newest edition to the family. Glancing at the sky in the distance over Beaver Stadium, looking east to west from the parking area, he remembers himself as an undergrad. The sky is the same as he remembers it years ago. Buildings have changed. The stadium blocks out more of the horizon than it did when he was a student here. Warren's appearance has changed a great deal since the time that he was at Penn State as a student. Looking at the sky over the stadium, with its' depth and longevity, he realizes that he is the same person that he was when he stood here years ago. The wrinkles on his face, grey hair, accentuate his character like a cloud dresses the true blue sky. The blue sky is always there even when it cannot be seen, whether covered by clouds,the effects of aging, or the final light of day.
He thinks about the day that his great grand-son will be his age. He imagines Alex standing with his own family in the exact spot. Alex stares into the same sky and has his own experience, and Warren looks down from a place far beyond the blue sky, and shares the feeling with his great-grandson and his family. Warren takes pride in his family, and he is proud to be Penn State.
Natalie likes to get inside the stadium in time to watch the team unload from the blue bus, standing in the stadium on a balcony just over where the team enters for the game. Gerry and Natalie treat the game as an intermission in their continuous tailgate extravaganza of a life and marriage that they share. People used to tell Gerry to smile more back in the time before he met Natalie. Now people refer to him as the guy who is always smiling.
The Thompson's travel all the way from Albany to be at the game, and even though their truck overheated halfway to State College, this game experience was not inhibited. In fact, the ordeal of getting to the game has made this otherwise average game day experience memorable for years to come. Everyone knows that Gerry loves Natalie, and that they both love Penn State.
Milly knows that Penn State is the underdog in this game. Since the moment that her 77 year old eyes opened today they have had an optimistic glow of anticipation, excitement. Her stomach has happy butterflies bouncing inside, tickling the insides of her body in a way that makes her feel giddy, energetic and strong. She anxiously awaits the green sedan that will be driven by her son-in-law John to take her to his house to watch the game. Milly just calls John her son.
They both enjoy the games and they both like to reminisce about the times that they watched the games with Ellen, his wife and her daughter. The three of them watched just about every PSU football game together for 36 years. Milly and John have been watching the games just the same in the four years following her early, unexpected passing. While there is no way for either of them to ever truly move past their shared loss, on game days there is a life inside of them that reminds them of the way that they felt at the games when they were with her. They are happy and optimistic about the game even though PSU is a heavy underdog and playing on the road. The Penn State football culture is something that brings them joy and relief. They grieved together, they are moving past things the best that anyone can, and they are Penn State together.
Kaitlyn is wearing her cheerleading outfit with a Penn State blue hoodie. She's also wearing the golden crown and carrying the wand that were a part of her Halloween costume a few weeks before the game. Her Wild Kratts gloves don't match the rest of her ensemble, but they keep her hands warm when she mimics the movements of the Penn State cheerleaders and dance team.
She does not know that from just before halftime straight through to the beginning of the fourth quarter she will be fast asleep on her fathers' lap. What she does know is that she is a real cheerleader and princess and Penn State fan.
She's got pom poms, she's got blue and white paint on her chubby round cheeks that spells out ‘PSU' with two Nittany Lion paws. Twelve years from now she will be on the field, a Lionette, looking back into the stands at all of the little girls dressed up like her, dancing like her the best that they can. She will remember the day that she slept in her fathers' lap, the day that she became Penn State.
Chris is Penn State through and through these days. Even though he lives in Florida, some of his friends refer to him as ‘Penn State Chris' since no one who talks to him for more than five minutes is unaware of his connection to the place. He remembers the day that he became Penn State. His freshman year in 1992. Penn State vs Miami. Barrow, Armstead and Marley playing linebacker for the U. Entering the parking lot, in the final season where kegs were allowed at the tailgates at Beaver Stadium, someone came up to him and asked if he was Delta Chi or something to that effect. Even though he didn't know what that was, he said he was. The pledge directed Chris to a group of tailgaters who all apparently were Delta Chi. Chris was afraid that he would not know anyone at the game, but after the Delta Chi brothers held his legs above his head long enough for him to take a keg stand, he realized that he didn't have to know anyone at Penn State to have friends. Inside the stadium, he saw young and old, sharing the same enthusiasm, this is Penn State, he thought. He joined the cheers, learning when to say ‘we are' and when to say ‘Penn State'. Since then he's been Penn State everywhere he goes.
Tommy used to work on the docks, the union's been on strike, he's down on his luck, it's tough...so tough. Gina works in the diner all day, she cries in the nightime and Tommy whispers, baby it's ok. He says ‘we got to hold on for what we've got, it doesn't make a difference if we make it or not, we've got each other, and that's a lot for love.' Tommy and Gina like to forget about their tight finances while watching the PSU football games. They were Rutgers fans for most of their lives until they sent their youngest of three to Penn State this fall.
Their families' contribution to the incoming class of 2017 at Penn State did not garner four or five stars from anyone. What they don't realize at this point is that in sending their daughter to PSU they have branded themselves and all of those around them as lifelong Penn State fans. What they think is a county fair temporary four year tattoo is in fact something that will be burnt into the fabric of who they are moving forward from this point. Like an overt neck tattoo in fluorescent colors, they will forever have a glow for being Penn State
Tommy and Gina may have gotten their three kids raised by living from one prayer and paycheck to the next, but now they stare at the tv, praying for a hail mary pass to be completed.
Christian arrived on campus just a few weeks before football season. When the other team scored, it left he and his teammates only 21 seconds, with no timeouts, down by five to try to answer. Things got worse as a penalty on the first play had PSU back to their own 10. Then there was a defensive penalty on what would have been the final play of the game. Now he's standing a few yards behind center, forty five yards away from the end zone to take the snap on this final, un-timed down.
He sees three defensive players standing near the end zone, waiting for the inevitable arrival of both the ball and several PSU receivers. First and 90 for the game became one play from 45 yards out. He thinks about a song that was playing on the stadium system during the delay in settling the penalty. It's a song that was popular a decade before Christian was born, but it still gets the crowd ready to go. ‘We'll give it a shot. We're halfway there', he says to himself. He makes eye contact with Robinson who is split out widest to the left. He envisions the ball that needs to be thrown, the time that needs to be bought in the pocket to allow his receivers to cover the 45 yards to the goal line.
He turns his sight back to the endzone, and for the first time realizes that he's become part of Penn State and that Penn State is in part what he has and will become. He feels the power of the fans in the stadium and it gives him the feeling that this is going to work out. Millions of Penn Staters look on in the stands, from the sidelines, and through television sets spread out around the country and world. Millions of different lives and circumstances but a similar connection, all living on the same prayer.
Christian gives one last glance toward Robinson and then looks toward the center. Ready. Set.Hike!