I hadn't been to a game since "IT" happened.
I think most of you know by now that I'm a graduate student, currently wasting away in west Texas, who has been away from Happy Valley on a consistent basis for way too long. Before 2013, my last time inside of Beaver Stadium had been for the 2011 Homecoming game against Purdue. It wasn't the most exciting of games and I sat in box seats with my then-girlfriend's parents. It all just felt a little off.
Later that season, I sat on the edge of my couch in my Tallahassee apartment to watch a "doink" from the gods give Joe Paterno his 409th win against Illinois. It was the same couch I watched TV reports from the week after when "IT" all went down. Another week later, I sat with the alumni chapter in Tally and cried in a bar as I watched Nebraska and Penn State kneel and pray at midfield and played one of the hardest-fought games, given the circumstances, I had ever seen.
I watched the magical 2012 season from different bars across Lubbock. I felt like I needed to be there. I felt like I was supposed to be there. From the disbelief of the Ohio loss to the joy of watching Sam Ficken become the biggest "fucker" of them all in overtime against Wisconsin, I was gut-wrenched that I wasn't there to share in the memories.
So, I made sure to make it back to State College for the 2013 edition of Homecoming against Michigan. I podcasted with Collyer as I drove the five hours to Austin's airport. I got to the opening of Pegula Ice Arena that Friday night. I met a few fine BSD writers and commenters for the first time in person at our tailgate.
And then I made it in the stadium.
I was able to get a student section seat and sat with fellow BSDer Bill. We laughed. We cried. We embraced each other like men do. I really don't need to go over many of the highlights. I'm sure most are still seared into our minds from Jordan Lucas's incredible interception of Devin Gardner in the first half to the helplessness feeling that set in after Zach Zwinak's fumble to start the second. We booed our loudest at that bogus pass interference call in the fourth quarter (and for the five minutes after said call) and cheered ten times louder when Allen Robinson made a catch that will stand next to Gregg Garrity's in Penn State lore.
By the time Bill Belton scampered into the endzone in the fourth overtime, I was emotionally spent. I made the walk down University Avenue and ended up on the patio of Kildare's, watching the exuberance that filled our little town tucked away in the shadow of Mount Nittany. I wasn't just happy that we had won, but I was happy seeing that, even after all the turmoil that Dear Old State had gone through over the previous two years, the spirit that allowed me to fall in love with the town and university never wandered.
I didn't really talk much about game action because it wasn't the game itself that made this my favorite. It was everything else that I took away from it. It was gaining an even newer appreciation for a fall weekend in State College. It was dedicating a beer to Mark Emmert to reaffirming the commitment in our Penn State culture, just not the one that he prescribed. And it was realizing that no matter how far away you are, that Alma Mater will always be ready to welcome you back with open arms as long as you appreciate every single moment you are with her.