It was like David and Goliath, except with footballs instead of slingshots.
My best friend from home is a student at Penn State, so all our neighborhood families decided to attend the game together. One of those families includes a Penn State alum with the tailgating expertise of a professional, which is what I have come to realize is the common theme for any tailgaters at the University. Needless to say, the group was ready for the noon Saturday game. For my friend and me, this meant being up at 7 a.m., out the door by about 8:15 and off walking in the crisp 55-degree weather to the breakfast tailgate.
When I say walk, I do not mean the average walk to Tolentine. Rather, I mean walking at least a mile, if not more, to where the families had set up their Penn State-themed bus. The actual tailgating area around the stadium is about a mile long, and we had to walk all around it to reach different friends and tents. In fact, the campus is so enormous that by the end of the day, the calculations on my friend’s Apple Watch said we clocked about nine miles. She said that was the norm each weekend.
The tailgating areas were a sea of tents, with Penn State and Villanova fans alike throwing footballs, grilling, and intermingling before the game. Tailgating classics like buffalo chicken dip sat side by side with pancakes and eggs (it was nine in the morning after all), filling the area with an aroma of clashing yet fitting smells of the season. The Penn State stadium, in all its glory, was the backdrop for the early risers in State College as they readied themselves for the game.
When game time finally came, I had already walked a few miles, run into multiple Villanova friends and felt like I needed a nap. Instead, my friend offered me the chance to see the game from the famous Penn State student section. Walking into the crowd, an overwhelming wave slammed into me. That is how it felt being at a football stadium that fits 100,000 people, when even the professional stadium from home (Pats nation), only fits about 65,000. The sight was astronomical.
The Penn State students had methods to their cheers, with my friend explaining why they said this cheer at this time, or another when the players did something else. Plus, every time Penn State would get a touchdown, female students got thrown in the air by a group of students for the amount of times Penn State scored. If you looked across the stadium at those moments, bobbing bodies interspersed throughout. It was like the students were in the game themselves, and they took their role very seriously.
The game itself proved to be, at least for me, a proud moment for Villanova. Sitting in the blazing sunlight of those stands actualized the intensity of these games, and the way we held our own proved the vigor of Villanovans.
After the game ended, the lunch bell sounded, and the 100,00 fans rushed back to their respective tailgates to set up their next order of business: lunch. No, the tailgates did not stop because the game was over. If anything, they just got busier and definitely hungrier.
At the end of the tailgate and a short break to rest our feet, my friend took me around campus to meet her friends and to show me more of her world, all of which proved to be fascinating for someone who has never seen a large state school. Though the entire day felt exhausting, every moment was worth it.
While Villanova might have lost, the experience, at least for me, was something spectacular. The sights and sounds of playing at a big football school and holding our own, seemed to give each and every Villanovan a deeper sense of pride and a plaguing exhaustion from a very long day.