STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The faint smell of cow manure travels to the hallowed grounds from a campus farm just across the way. Rolling hills with lush trees resemble the opening scene from “Jurassic Park” as the camera pans away to reveal a vast expanse of green.
Echoes of the past whistle along with the mid-state Pennsylvania breeze. Signs bearing Joe Paterno’s name dot the stadium walls while his statue remains absent. I spent five days visiting Penn State. I didn’t know what to expect from a school that saw its once-revered football program crumble in a month.
I arrived in State College on Wednesday to see my girlfriend. We visited the stadium on Friday where the tiny town was abuzz with a matchup against Central Florida looming. State College lives and breathes Penn State football. Perhaps that’s a product of having one coach for 46 years, but the experience is something Gainesville ought to emulate.
Tents, a la Krzyzewskiville, populated Gate A with students camping out at Nittanyville to select their seats to the season’s second home game. Florida has a similar program with its Beat T-shirt campouts, but these students were waiting since Wednesday. Some games have them tent-living for a week.
It isn’t even gameday yet as we head over to the Penn State Creamery — home of Peachy Paterno ice cream — from the stadium for a cold treat. Here’s hoping Sweet Dreams comes out with Muschamp Mint Chocolate Chip.
Exit the brick campus, which resembles its sister school from Gainesville, and McLanahan’s student store is just a couple blocks away.
There, students bought their white Penn State football shirts for Saturday’s “White Out.” I bought a short-sleeved one only to wish I had longer sleeves to fend off the 60-degree weather.
I never made it into the stadium the next day, though.
It wasn’t because of one too many Steel Reserves, but instead because of the lack of any tickets available at a reasonable price. To think students actually showed up in droves for a college football game? Florida student tickets are $15, while we couldn’t find one for less than $60 at Penn State — for UCF no less.
Once Friday turned into Saturday, College Ave. became the epicenter of Nittany Lion pride.
Ticket scalpers worked the street corners, families headed for pregame meals and the cheerleading squad greeted fans with stickers.
The scene reminded me of Knoxville’s crazed gameday atmosphere: a never-ending sight of burnt orange and long lines. We ate at The Corner Room, a State College staple since 1926.
After a breakfast buffet of bacon, eggs and danishes, the real fun began. Sidewalk space came at a premium as Penn Staters had tailgating on their minds.
My walks to The Swamp from my house by Emerson Alumni Hall have become less crowded — a sad sight for a storied Southeastern Conference program like UF. Although there may not be a better experience than Penn State football, Florida’s should be less about the wins and losses, and more about the orange and blue.
Penn State lost to UCF on Saturday. The Knights shocked State College with its first-ever win against a Big 10 team. After the 34-31 upset, in true Penn State fashion, the crowd joined together in “Fight On, State.”
We left shortly after kickoff. We stumbled home away from the parking lot, away from Beaver Stadium, away from the Winnebago’s.
As we exited the lot, cheers from Happy Valley could be heard and stale beer could be smelled.
Together, they revealed a school spirit that never left.
Follow Adam Pincus on Twitter @adamDpincus.