- May 25, 2022
Penn State opened their home schedule with Eastern Michigan. Other than for the excitement of a new season and plenty of points being scored, this is a game that normally would soon be forgotten. For me this game will be remembered. My father began taking me to ‘Happy Valley’ when I was three. Like so
Penn State opened their home schedule with Eastern Michigan. Other than for the excitement of a new season and plenty of points being scored, this is a game that normally would soon be forgotten. For me this game will be remembered.
My father began taking me to ‘Happy Valley’ when I was three. Like so many of you, my dad was – and we are – Penn State Fans. We had the same season tickets for over four decades. The folks that sat around us became like family. They watched me grow up. I introduced them to my wife Michelle when Doug Flutie and Boston College visited Penn State and were like proud grandparents when we took Jimmy and Hunter to games. The tailgating, the Blue Band, the excitement of college football – sharing a beautiful Saturday as a family with the Nittany Lions became a fall ritual.
I have so many great memories and stories that I would run out paper before I could tell them all. But, I would like to share a couple with you from when I was a kid.
My dad and I would always play catch before the games. Often he would buy me one of those small white footballs with the blue detailing, like the ones cheerleaders would throw out back then. I can still see the Nittany Lion on the ball; this was before the new logo they use today.
Well, anyway, Alabama and Coach Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant made their first trip to Beaver Stadium. It was a big deal. ‘The Tide’ traveled well and there were many ‘Bama fans dressed in formal attire. Their tailgating parties came complete with tablecloths and china plates. I was probably 8 or 9 at the time. This was very new to me. Fancy tailgating in my mind was a tent and grill. You’re probably thinking, “What does this have to do with that Nittany Lion football?” You see, Mr. Webb had a good arm and loved to throw the ball and watch me run under it. There was just one problem this Penn State Saturday – my dad’s long pass took me right through one of those fancy ‘Roll Tide’ tailgating parties. There was china breaking, food dumping and some older ‘Bama fans getting their cocktails spilled all over them. I never saw it coming; I was too busy looking back for the ball.
Believe it or not, they were not that upset that I crashed the party. They were more concerned if I was injured. As I got up, my father was already apologizing to our newly made friends from the south.
I was embarrassed and concerned that dad may be upset over what had happened. So when he looked at me and began to speak I looked down at the ground, clutching that rubbery, vinyl ball. I can still hear his words, “Son, that was a great catch.”
Then there was Ohio State’s first trip to Beaver Stadium. Penn State had been criticized for playing a weak schedule and everyone was excited about playing our neighbors to the west. I remember walking around the track and going over where the Buckeyes came out onto the field. My dad stopped Coach Woody Hayes and spoke with him and I got to shake his hand. How did Mr. Webb know him? I never thought to ask.
There was the bad weather game against Navy. My dad and I were covered with plastic garbage bags as the rain came down. As a young boy I was more interested in watching the water run down the step of the stadium like a waterfall. Of course Navy won 7-6.
My favorite player as a kid was Heisman Trophy winner John Cappelletti. My dad loved watching him run and being young, I wanted to grow up and be just like him.
One evening my father came home from work and said I have a surprise for you. You need to get dressed up; we’re going to a football banquet.
The banquet was at the Genetti Hotel. The guest of honor was John Cappelletti. But it gets better. When he finished speaking, I got to meet him and he signed a very special football I had brought along. The ball is a story for another time. Mr. Cappelletti then threw me passes right in the ballroom of the Genetti. No, I didn’t break anything.
Now back to the Eastern Michigan game and why I will remember it. My son Jimmy drove and along with friends Fletcher Quigley and the Glavin brothers Luke and Jake, made the trip to State College to attend the game. It was the first time he traveled to Happy Valley on his own. Thanks to Rick Quigley for the great seats for the boys. I remember my first game with my friends – Temple – and now I know how my dad must have been feeling. A sense of pride in the fact that his son was stretching his wings and he passed on the tradition of Penn State Football, a sense of disbelief in the fact that his little boy had grown up this fast.
My words to Jimmy before he left were very similar to what my dad said to me. “Be careful, have fun, do you need any money? Love you pal.”
When Jimmy returned home from the game, the first thing he told me was they retired John Cappelletti’s number (22). Fitting it took place on this day.