This past weekend, College GameDay traveled to State College, Pennsylvania for the white-out showdown of #2 Penn State and #19 Michigan – and so did I! I have really never been up north (outside of a couple quick New York visits).
When one of my best girl friends invited me along, I immediately started digging through my winter clothes thinking it would be absolutely freezing. Well, turns out we picked the perfect weekend to go! It was 65 the whole weekend. Just absolutely gorgeous! Not to mention the leaves were changing and the 3 hour drive from Baltimore to State College is nothing but hills and trees.
For those of you who don’t know my background, my friend Nelly (who extended the invitation to go on this trip with her) has been all over the college football world. She was at Vanderbilt with Penn State’s current head football coach, James Franklin, and he took her along when he made the move back in 2014. So needless to say we were very lucky to watch this game in style.
The Michigan game was also the white-out game for Penn State, and truthfully there is no other white-out/black-out/blue-out/pink-out/whatever-out game like the Nittany Lions’ white-out game. Literally EVERY SINGLE PERSON wore white. There was absolutely no blue in sight… unless you were a Michigan fan, but they mostly all wore that ugly bright yellow.
We spent the afternoon tailgating with Coach Franklin’s friends and family (again, all Nelly’s connections. I just got lucky!). Not only are his daughters absolutely precious but his wife is absolutely hysterical – and she makes a damn good raspberry cheesecake. I definitely had more than one piece. Of course we had to also swing by College GameDay.
We headed into the game and down onto the field at about 6:15pm just to get a better feel for the environment. Walking out of the players tunnel and onto the field beneath the student section was such a great and familiar feeling. As much as I love my job now in student-athlete academics and development, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t miss that feeling every Saturday night.
Penn State has one loud crowd and one ridiculous student section. I’d be willing to bet their student section is one of the biggest in the country. Luckily we got to skip that chaos and sat in the player family section, smack-dab on the 50-yard-line. At this point, I’m naturally texting my dad bragging about all the strings Nelly pulled for our trip… and like any good football dad, he was green with jealousy.
The game itself was pretty much all Penn State. They really just dominated Michigan for a good portion of the game. So thankfully all of Nelly’s friends and coaches were happy after the game and with the result. It’s really hard for me to describe the environment on paper, but it still gives me chills. The traditions and songs and cheers are so deep-rooted that everyone in the stadium knows them, and everyone sings them proudly. I also can’t forget that everyone actually sang the National Anthem, not just stood for it. That’s something that I don’t see very often and I absolutely loved it!
After the game we headed over to the Penn State All-Sports Museum in the football stadium, which is where the post-game conference and recruiting rooms are located. We sat in on Coach Franklin’s post-game interview, where he specifically mentioned wanting to see more white pants at games (even though it’s after Labor Day). Lucky for me I got the memo and wore white pants to the game! We also got to sit in on Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley’s post-game interviews, which was such an honor considering how good of a shot Saquon Barkley has in the Heisman race. Though we didn’t get to check out the football facility and offices, we did get to explore the recruiting rooms which were really cool. They have the original Nittany Lion on display and tons of really cool game memorabilia for history-making football games. We’re returning to Happy Valley for a game in fall of 2019 where we’ll get a private tour of ALL of Penn State’s football facilities, so stay tuned for that!
After the game we headed over to Champ’s Sports Grill off North Atherton for a beer. Nelly’s dad ordered everything but the kitchen sink and seemed to really like it. I stuck with a beer since I’d pretty much cleaned off the table at the Franklin’s tailgate (whoops). But if you’re ever in State College, it’s definitely work checking out! It’s upstairs with a cute patio and a very open floorplan. PLENTY of TVs too! There’s also another location downtown, which is much more of the college atmosphere. This one’s out of the way a little bit, so it’s probably a better choice if you’re just looking to hang out, have a good time, and socialize with a group of friends!
Sunday was our day to relax after a whirlwind day of traveling. We got up in the morning and had brunch at Primanti Bros. in downtown State College. They’re known for these huge sandwiches where you just pick out the meat that you want. It was actually the size of my head! Since we were with Nelly’s dad and brother who are die-hard Dolphins fans, we had to make sure there were enough TVs to check out all the Sunday games. We ended up spending a good majority of the day here watching the NFL games and having a few beers. It was a great environment with a really friendly wait staff. After the big win the night before, it was a little obvious that some of their staff members probably didn’t make it in for work as it was a little bit slow! But nothing unbearable. We weren’t in any rush. The manager gave us a free round of drinks for the wait, too.
After brunch Nelly showed me around the campus. It was absolutely gorgeous. I attended Texas Tech for my undergraduate degree, and their campus was a very Spanish feel. Penn State was nothing like that. It was very different. It was incredible! Especially with the changing leaves and fall weather. It made me wish I would’ve considered Penn State (but then I reminded myself they have snow 5 months out of the year and I can’t handle that!)
So one of my favorite shows is NCIS (until Tony left, ugh). Something that I thought was really cool is the show’s creator, Donald Bellisario, is a Penn State alumni and the Communications college is named after him! Not to mention he’s donated millions to the athletic programs. Must be nice!
We checked out some of the buildings but made sure to hit the Nittany Lion Shrine.
Also can’t forget the lovely fraternity signs.
Our last stop was The Creamery. Hands down THE BEST ice cream I’ve ever had in my entire life. I will absolutely be returning to State College one day with the sole purpose of buying 5 gallons of their Birthday Bash ice cream.
The rest of the day was really low-key. We were so full from brunch and ice cream that we actually skipped out on dinner. There were quite a few places in downtown State College that I was bummed that I didn’t get to check out – but hey, that just means I have an excuse to go back at some point! My flight was early Monday morning out of Baltimore, so we left State College at the crack of dawn Monday to get me back for my flight. Another thing I wished I could’ve done was check out Washington D.C. 20 miles down the road from Baltimore, but I had to get back to work. For a whirlwind trip we booked 6 days before, I’d say it was incredibly successful! The hospitality that Nelly’s old co-workers showed us was so awesome and you can really tell how valued she was on their staff. We will definitely be booking a trip back to see and do more for another game! …just not in the winter!