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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Fringeville Edition #59, January 25 2012

Blue-White Game: A family tradition

JoePa was a big influence on my life. It wasn't about the football. It was about the message:  Strive for excellence. Do the little things right, because then the big things take care of themselves. Don't be afraid to reinvent yourself. There were other things, but you get the drift. These were messages about how to live life, not just how to approach football.

Many of the high and low points of my adult life had a Penn State stamp on them. Through all the ups and downs there were the yearly trips to Beaver Stadium for Blue-White games and the occasional fall game (when I could get my hands on tickets). I saw the Lions beat (in chronological order) Rutgers, Maryland, Notre Dame, Michigan State, Indiana, Illinois, and Purdue from various seats in Happy Valley. I think I'm a good luck charm for the Lions; they've never lost with me in the stadium.

Except for the Rutgers game (which I attended when I went to school there) all the other games were trips from northeastern Pennsylvania to State College.

And the Blue-White games?

I've seen a bunch of them. My first was with my fiance, Cathy, and her parents in the spring of 1982. I remember we stopped on the way down to look at antiques (her father was big on antiques and flea markets). I kept trying to look patient while her father tediously inspected antique bottles as my watch ticked closer and closer to kickoff time. Cathy finally said, "Dad...THE GAME!" and we piled back into their car and resumed the drive to the stadium, arriving just in time.

I only took one other trip to State College that year, when I saw the National Title-bound Lions beat Maryland 39-31. They won that national title on January 1, 1983. Not many weeks later, I lost Cathy to leukemia. There was a gap of several years before I started going to the Blue-White games again, but once I started going again I missed just one other game.

Somewhere along the way, it became a tradition for my brother Bill and I. We both had young sons and we'd load them into the car early on Saturday morning and drive to State College. Over the years, while the game was the day's centerpiece, it was the time spent together that mattered most. Here's our usual routine: My brother and I argue politics all the way down.  Our sons get a big kick out of hearing us jaw back and forth. They're grown now, and sometimes they throw their two cents in as well. We park in a garage downtown and go to lunch (usually 5 Guys). We walk the burgers off on the long uphill trudge to the stadium. We sit in stands, good weather or bad not caring whether we're dry, soaked, frozen or baked, and watch a game that means nothing with tens of thousands of other Nittany Nuts. After the game, we walk through town again a while then either pig out again or fill up on coffee and drive home. There are subtle variations year-to-year, but that's the most common script of daily activities.

Then came the fall of 2011 and with it perhaps the worst scandal in college sports. Next was the firing, illness and death of Joe Paterno.

Since the scandal broke, I often wondered whether or not we'd keep going to those spring games. I have a grandson now, and I'd looked forward to the day when he'd be making his first pilgrimage with us. But the scandal put the future of our tradition in jeopardy.

I made my final decision soon after Paterno died. The alleged actions of Jerry Sandusky damaged heaven knows how many children. He's damaged the reputation of the University. He's tarnished or ruined the careers of people who in many cases had nothing to do with the scandal. They were simply collateral damage with the misfortune of being too close to the fire.

My decision? Jerry doesn't get to pee in my cheerios. I won't give him that kind of power over my life. He isn't allowed to ruin this family tradition. I will continue to go to the Blue-White games, and the occasional fall game as well. It won't be the same. How could it, with Joe not there? But my brother and I will argue politics, eat too much food, drink too much coffee, and spend a few hours watching a game that is meaningless on a day that is always meaningful to us.

Bite me, Jerry.

Jimbo