The Pre-Game Warm-Up
When it comes to weather, yesterday's game forecast was about as bad as it could be. So bad, in fact, that my husband Terry threatened to stay home. Really? End a 265-game attendance streak at Penn State football games because of a little snow and inconvenience in October? At a home game?
He actually thought about watching Joe Paterno's record-breaking 409th win on TV? Assuming, of course, we won?
I couldn't believe he was considering this. No matter how inconvenient having to take a shuttle bus and leaving our car in a snowy supermarket parking lot is, it's no worse than what we have put up with for years at a lot of away games. And we didn't even have to suffer the indignities of airline travel to get there!
Neither of us were sick, although perhaps we were a bit tired, as we tend to get during this part of a football season. Huh?
The predicted 5-8 inches of snow were unusual, but not impossible to deal with. On Friday we hunted around for the layers of clothing, socks, boots, and gloves that would protect us and keep us warm. We called Terry's daughter and discussed the weather. Due to uncertainties about getting back home to Allentown on Sunday, she decided to stay home.
So it was just the two of us. We called Wegman's and cancelled the subs we had ordered for our tailgate. We checked into shuttle buses, assuming that our grass parking lot would be closed, or even if open, too treacherous for us to walk. Memories of a 2006 fall in that grassy lot in similar wet and muddy conditions were enough to keep me from even considering an attempt to park there. I sprained my ankle, and it took six weeks to recover.
In any case, I finally told Terry that he could stay home if he wanted to. I was going to take the shuttle to the game with or without him. Terry relented and decided to come with me.
The real reason, though, for why Terry went to the game was his fear that if he stayed home we would lose power due to heavy wet snow downing power lines in our area. He didn't want to miss watching the game, and the only way to guarantee he would see it was to go to it in person.
The attendance streak has never meant much to Terry. He just likes seeing all the games, preferably in person, and since 1990 he has traveled hundreds of miles each year to make sure he does that.
In fact, we did have a power outage at home, we're not sure for how long. It was enough to reset all the clocks on our electronic devices. It may or may not have been enough to disrupt coverage of the game at home.
The Game Itself
The first two and a half quarters were scoreless, and a battle of field position. When it came to field position, the only thing that kept Penn State in the game was defense and special teams.
So when it got to the middle of the third quarter and the scoreboard read 7-0 in favor of Illinois, I was beginning to think that perhaps we should have stayed home from this one. It took until the middle of the fourth quarter for Penn State to put three points on the board. And that was caused by a special teams punt block that put Penn State in scoring position.
Terry would blame me for dragging him out in this brutal weather to watch the "worst offensive performance I have seen in the 429 Penn State football games I have personally witnessed".
And he would be miserable to live with for at least the next two weeks until we played the next game and won. I couldn't disagree with him. Normally I love a great defensive battle. But this was just no fun.
A huge 7-3 disappointment. It was damn cold and frigid, sitting in the slushy stands, besides. With a wet snow constantly falling on us.
The defense and special teams kept creating opportunities for the offense to score, and the offense would continually disappoint.
Except for THE drive - the one that started with 3:05 left on the 4th quarter clock - a drive not quite as pretty as the one at Illinois in 1994, but one that surprised and delighted.
When Penn State's offense took over on its own 20-yard line with 80 yards to go to score a touchdown, Terry and I thought the game was over.
Given our offensive performance so far, we thought that the offense would probably make a couple of first downs, falter on 4th down, and then turn the ball over to Illinois, and then the clock would be run down and the game won by Illinois 7-3.
We just hadn't seen anything so far in this game to make us excited about the offense's chance to drive all that distance for a touchdown. Basically, the offense didn't exist in this game.
No. Worse than that. It stank. Illinois's defense was beating Penn State up at the line of scrimmage, and neither quarterback was able to get into any rhythm with the wide receivers or tight ends. The only bright spot on the offense was Silas Redd's running. And even Silas Redd had fumbled, early in the game.
Until that final drive. Enter wide receiver Derek Moye, returning from a foot injury. It had been Penn State's intention not to play him, even though he was dressed for the game. But after Moye completed that first catch, he added a spark that got the rest of the offense going.
Perhaps too quickly, the offense scored. With some perfectly executed passes to both Moye and Justin Brown, and with the help of a 4th and 6 end zone pass interference penalty against Illinois, Penn State did get a first down and into position to score a touchdown. Silas Redd did just that.
An impressive two-minute offense for 80 yards! Wow.
But there was too much time left, a minute, and unfortunately our defense didn't contain very well. Illinois got within field goal range to tie the game.
I wouldn't have bet the bank on our chances to win an overtime match against Illinois. At this point we were very lucky to be ahead 10-7.
All of a sudden, for that game-tying field goal, there was an incredible student flurry towards the middle of the end zone.
Evidently the students realized that they had a chance to disrupt the kicker's concentration. So students went running from both sides to behind the goal posts, creating a wave of motion that was fun to watch.
I have never seen that before. Not at Penn State. Not anywhere else. It WAS distracting.
The kicker's aim was slightly off.
Instead of sending Penn State into a tense overtime battle with Illinois, the ball bounced harmlessly off the upright. We won!!!
To the sound of the Beach Boys' song chanting "409, 409", the celebration of Coach Joe Paterno's new record started.
Coach Joe Paterno now stands alone among all Division I coaches in number of wins. And, most importantly, he did it the right way. Graduating his players. No NCAA violations.
Congratulations, Coach! We all love you for what you have accomplished at Penn State.
The Snow Bowl Bred Stupidity
This was an extremely difficult game to watch in a stadium where the weather was downright relentless, a wet, cold snow that drifted upon us without wind, just enough to create huge mounds of slushy snow in the stands and to not give us any relief from the cold wet conditions.
The kind of wet snow that was falling became perfect for forming snowballs and even miniature snowmen.
So in addition to potentially losing this game, we were also witnessing displays of unsportsmanlike conduct from the stands - and I'm not just talking about the student section when I say that.
At the beginning of the game, there were snowballs being thrown at the Illinois bench from below us in Sections WB, WC, and even WD. Alumni sections in the West stands. I was glad I was high enough up in the stands to not be in their path.
There were snowballs being thrown at Illinois and at the officials from the Student Section whenever they drove near the South End Zone.
Appeals from the loudspeakers that snowball throwing would result in a penalty against the Penn State team stopped the early snowballs from the West stands. Or perhaps those folks were reported by their neighbors and the guards threw them out.
But despite appeals from defensive players in the end zone as well as the loudspeakers signaling for students to stop the snowball-throwing, students continued throwing.
When it was early in the game, I honestly hoped that the officials WOULD call an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the Penn State team to stop the snowballs.
I wouldn't have liked it, but I felt that it was deserved. Snowballs packed with that much water can be lethal weapons, and we're lucky that nobody was injured (I hope).
At the end of the half when Illinois was about to kick a field goal and the snow balls were flying, I'm not sure what the outcome would have been if a penalty had been called.
It might have helped Illinois gain an additional three points that they missed. Need I remind everyone that three points was the difference in this game?
But perhaps the officials were afraid that such a call might result in more snowballs, not less. So to a certain extent I admire their restraint, especially when one snowball landed squarely on the back of an official.
At the end of the game, Illinois threatened to tie the game with a field goal to bring it into overtime, and the snowballs came flying again. Evidently there wasn't enough enforcement by Penn State security guards to get these students out of the stadium.
We held our breath. The officials had every right again to call an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Penn State, bringing that field goal attempt closer.
Penn State is very lucky they didn't.
Penn State should consider taking season ticket rights away from people who do this, and publicizing that fact widely. Only then might people take such warnings seriously.
And Speaking of Unsportsmanlike Conduct...
I don't like the quarterback coaching decisions any more than the next Penn State football fan.
But I don't care how poorly Rob Bolden played in the drives he was in.
It is very distressing when a team's fans boo their own player off the field.
This isn't the pros, where players make big bucks. This is a group of 18-22 year old young men bringing in millions of dollars for Penn State athletics in exchange for a scholarship that covers almost all, but not all, of the cost of going to college.
People will argue that the boos were not for Rob Bolden, but rather for offensive coaches Jay Paterno and Galen Hall.
But all I could think about was how awful for this 19-year-old young man to have all those Penn State fans booing him as he's coming off the field after fumbling the ball.
There was no forgiveness for the awful weather conditions, for an offensive line that couldn't hold the Illini's defense back and that gave Bolden no time.
Several of Bolden's passes were ill-advised, tipped, or poorly executed, but so were McGloin's in the first quarter. Neither quarterback impressed except for that final drive.
In the second quarter, it's hard to know whether or not the intention was to alternate quarterbacks, or if the coaches decided to put Rob Bolden in the second quarter lineup in order to settle Matt down before he made a crucial mistake.
But that booing was uncalled for, unnecessary, and possibly stupid. Penn State may need Rob Bolden to win one of the next three games.
The fans' attitudes towards him will not help him gain any self-confidence, something he truly needs to succeed. And my guess is that right now, his self-confidence is at an all-time low.
Fans need to find some other way to express displeasure against coaches, not boo players who are working as hard as they can to get a win for their team.
My 8-1 Prediction Comes True
At the beginning of this season, I had predicted that we would be 8-1 at the end of October.
What I had not predicted was how we would win these games. The heart-attack kids performed again.
This Penn State team keeps winning games by overcoming adversity and finding a way to win.
I am very proud of what this team has accomplished so far.
This may in fact be a team of destiny. Or they might be a team about to face huge disappointment.
It's honestly hard to know at this point.
With an 8-1 record, they face perhaps the toughest teams in the Big Ten in November after a bye week: Nebraska, Ohio State, then Wisconsin.
As Coach Paterno said in his remarks after the game, "We'll see how good a team they really are."
But all I can say right now, after bringing JoePa his 409th win under tough conditions, is "Well done!"