Football Fans “Rise and Rally”
“I feel like I’m at a bowl game.”
So said a woman making her way up Hastings Road on the way to Holuba Hall. It was a little before 6 a.m. Tuesday, and the woman was part of a steady stream of fans converging on the football practice facility, a crowd that eventually swelled into the thousands. It did feel a bit like the vibe before a postseason game—the sort that Penn State fans won’t be able to enjoy for another four years, at least.
This was “Rise and Rally,” an early-morning show of support for the Nittany Lion football team. Organized last week by Tim Sweeney ’89 and Keith Conlin ’95, former players who now host a local radio show, the rally brought together other former players (Sweeney is president of the football Letterman’s Club), students, and fans as a way to counteract the sense of a program under siege. With NCAA sanctions threatening the team’s ability to compete and every player on the roster free to transfer without limitation, there was a sense just a week ago that Penn State might see its program fall apart. Over the past week, coaches and players have largely reiterated their commitment; Tuesday was the first chance for fans to do so in person, and to let the players hear it. It’s clear they did.
The crowd, already a thousand deep by 6 a.m., milled about, sustained by free cookies, donuts, and coffee, before players started arriving a little after 6. They came in twos and threes, sleepy eyed as they made their way into the Lasch Building for their morning workout. The fans—a mix of young and old, locals and those who traveled for hours, and what looked like the entire men’s basketball and women’s soccer teams, among others—formed a tunnel to cheer them on as they came. Near the entrance, away from the crowd, Sue Paterno ’62 was there as well.
Eventually, the players made their way to the outdoor practice field, where fans filled the sideline to watch them work out; when it was over, the fans joined the players at midfield for a massive huddle and a cheer: “Family on three!”
If there was any doubt that the rally served its intended purpose, quarterback Matt McGloin dispelled it. “After experiencing this today,” McGloin told Tim Owen of Blue-White Illustrated, “I don’t know who would want to leave this place.”
For many outside of the Penn State community—and even some within it—the rally will serve another purpose: Confirming their impression of a place with its priorities out of whack. Taking it all in Tuesday morning, I found myself trying to explain to my 7-year-old son why everyone came out to cheer for football players on a summer weekday with no game scheduled. He’s too young to fully understand the idea of people in a community needing a reason to come together, to show that they support each other as much as they do the players. For different reasons, a lot of adults with no connection to Penn State can’t—or won’t—understand it, either.
That’s something all of us will have to deal with for a long time. For now, at least, it felt good to be back among friends.
Ryan Jones, senior editor