Dan Picca wants to ring out the Penn State football year the same way he rang it in: traveling through New York on the way to a breathtaking victory.
The State College resident is a Nittany Lion die-hard and he has the passport to prove it.
“It’s been kind of like a full circle,” he said.
His friend John Madden, of Lackawanna County agency Travelworld, reached out to him over the summer about a package he was pulling together. Would Picca be interested in going to Ireland to watch new head coach James Franklin and his squad take on the University of Central Florida in the Croke Park Classic?
Absolutely, Picca said, and he was pretty sure he knew a bunch of other people who would want to go, too. Picca, a member of a few online alumni groups, spread the word, and soon there were 250 members of the Nittany Nation raring to hit the Emerald Isle.
“We filled it up in a day,” Picca said. They packed a bus in State College, headed to Harrisburg to pick up more people, then to Scranton and caravaned to New York, where they flew out of John F. Kennedy International Airport.
“We had a blast. It was a tremendous stadium and a thrilling game, down to the last second. A lot of us could have flown home without the plane,” Picca said.
The game proved to be the first win of the season for the Nittany Lions, a Hollywood nail-biting finish that all came down to Sam Ficken’s final field goal.
Picca told Madden it was fantastic, and he’d be happy to do it again in a couple years when Penn State was bowl eligible again, after riding out the NCAA sanctions imposed after the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
Nine days later, though, the NCAA repealed the postseason ban in light of a positive report from independent monitor and former Sen. George Mitchell, putting the team just five victories away from a bowl invitation. They cemented the eligibility after beating Temple in November, and in early December, received the good news — a bid for the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium, facing off against Boston College.
Even before the official announcement was made, Madden started to put together a package, gambling on some insider information. Picca spread the word among the faithful, and in less than an hour and a half, 500 people were set to go. Ten buses will follow the same route the Croke Park travelers took, except instead of heading for the airport, they will go straight to the Bronx.
“It couldn’t have turned out any better,” Picca said.
Madden said Penn State is definitely a fan base that travels well.
“I could have sold another 500 tickets,” he said. Phones at his agency rang off the hooks long after all the seats had been filled.
The university appreciates that commitment.
“Penn State students, alumni and students continue to demonstrate why they are considered the most passionate and loyal fans of any school in the nation,” said spokesman Jeff Nelson. “It doesn’t matter whether the Nittany Lions are playing in Pennsylvania, Ireland, California, Florida, Texas or New York City, the blue and white faithful will have an substantial impact on the game and the economy in that area.”
That’s not a surprise for Picca, whose fellow fans in blue and white will board buses at 6:45 a.m. in State College for the 4:30 p.m. kickoff.
“We are super psyched-up. Penn State people are hungry for a bowl game,” he said. “They could have put Penn State in the Lunar Bowl on the moon and we would have filled it.”