This post is sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011.
I didn't grow up in a house that was crazy for Penn State. My parents kind of had a casual interest in the team. Games weren't televised much back in the '80s, so there weren't many opportunities to see Penn State on television. They never took me to a game, but they would watch them when there was nothing better to do.
My grandfather, on the other hand, was a huge Penn State fan, and he took his Penn State football very seriously. He started getting season tickets in the '70s. Back then he literally parked in the shadow of the stadium, and he often schmoozed with the television guys to work his way on television. Many a time I can remember sitting at home watching the Penn State coming on the air, and as Keith Jackson was giving the introduction they would show video of people out in the tailgate area, and there was my grandfather wearing a silly hat and holding a beer up high. We marveled at his ability to get camera time.
When I say my grandfather was a die hard Penn State fan, I mean it. He was one of those fans you don't want to be around after a loss. We had a family tradition of going to my grandparents' house every Sunday afternoon for dinner. I was just a kid, but I can remember my parents saying, "Dad's going to be in a foul mood today. Penn State lost."
I don't remember the first game I ever attended, but I remember they were playing Cincinnati. I can't remember who won, but I remember everyone around me was angry and my uncle was no fun to talk to on the ride home, so maybe it was 1983 when the Bearcats won 14-3. That would have made me 9 at the time. (PSUncle can probably shed some light on when it was.) About the only thing I remember from that day was that my little brother cried when we left the stadium because he didn't get a souvenir. (He was a spoiled brat that felt like he was entitled to a souvenir wherever he went. He was probably 6 or 7 at the time.) So I remember my Uncle leaving my brother and I standing on Curtin Road by ourselves after the game while he went back in the stadium to buy a Nerf football for my brother. If my parents had known, my Uncle surely would have got a stern lecture out of it. But he himself was only 19 or 20 at the time. I am glad to say his parenting skills have greatly improved since then.
I had never been to a live sporting event before that, but what a way to get my feet wet. Of course, there were no upper decks in those days, so the stadium probably sat around 73,000 or so. I remember that first time I walked out of the tunnel just looking around in awe. The smell of the freshly cut grass filled my nostrils. The way the players were running around for warmups looked like chaos, but it was like poetry at the same time. When the band took the field I was blown away with how loud they were, and the first time the crowd chanted "We Are....Penn State", I thought it was about the coolest thing I had ever heard. It was a great day, but I wasn't really completely hooked on Penn State football at that point. I still only casually followed the team.
As I grew up and advanced through high school I started looking at colleges and thinking about potential career paths. I knew I was good at math and science, so I figured engineering would be a good fit for me. My top three list was Penn State, Pitt, and Temple. My grandfather had passed away by the time I entered high school, but if he had been alive I'm sure he would have told me I was not going to Pitt or Temple. He really wouldn't have had to. Having grown up in a small town in central Pennsylvania, the thought of going to an inner city school like Pitt or Temple was pretty intimidating. In my junior year I attended a junior day at Penn State, and I immediately fell in love with the campus and the town. I knew right then I was going to Penn State. I never even applied to any other school.
Once I began attending Penn State, it didn't take long until I became a die hard fan. I started out at the Altoona campus, but once I got on main campus I attended every home game from 1994 through 1996. Then I came back for every home game in 1997. From 1998 through 2004 I kind of drifted from the team a bit. It's not that I wasn't a fan anymore, but I was working a goofy schedule with rotating shifts that forced me to work a lot of weekends. The fact that the team sucked a lot made it easier to miss a lot of games.
In 2005 I started getting into blogging. I ran a political blog for a little while. But after a few months of that I really got burnt out from arguing with people who are never going to change their mind. So I started seeking out college football blogs. I found a few general football blogs out there and started reading them. Then one day I stumbled upon MGoBlog and it opened my eyes. It was witty. It was informative. It was entertaining. The only bad thing was it was a Michigan blog, but it opened my eyes to the fact that it was possible to have a team-specific blog.
Immediately my attention turned to finding some Penn State blogs. To my surprise, the options were very limited. There were only one or two out there, and to my disappointment they were not updated regularly. So in January of 2006 I started a little Penn State blog called Hail to the Lion. RUTS and Galen from The Nittany Line started their blogs right around the same time. After a few months it started getting noticed and linked to, and then SBNation asked me to jump on board. So in August of 2006 we fired up Black Shoe Diaries, and as they say, the rest is history.
I started out a casual Penn State fan, and became a big Penn State fan in 1994. But running a Penn State blog has pretty much catapulted me into the stratosphere of fandome. Every day I'm following the team, sharing what I learn, and interacting with other Penn State fans. It has been a heck of a ride, and I have really cherished these past four years. I have learned more about Penn State football through this blog than I ever thought imagineable. When you blog, you feel like it's your job to know everything. If you don't, the readers will let you know. So blogging has forced me to do research and read about Penn State. Sometimes I wonder if this is how Lou Prato started out. Maybe one day people will consider me a leading Penn State historian. Who knows.
So that's my story about how I became a Penn State fan. What's yours?