The allure of playing inside a mammoth football stadium isn’t lost on a team of players that calls the 106,572-seat Beaver Stadium home.
But the slightly smaller complex that awaits them in East Rutherford, N.J., presents Penn State players with a unique opportunity. When Penn State begins its season on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against Syracuse, the clash inside MetLife Stadium will signal the official start of the football calendar for Penn State and its fans. That 82,566-seat stadium will close its own football calendar with Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2.
“It really is cool to think at the end of the year they’re going to be playing the Super Bowl in that stadium so that is definitely something to think about,” Penn State senior guard Miles Dieffenbach said. “There’s a lot of hype surrounding the game and it’s a brand new stadium. It’s going to be packed and it’s going to be a great game.”
Officially billed as the second edition of “The New York College Classic,” the tilt between the Nittany Lions and Orange will serve as a home game for Syracuse. Last season, Syracuse hosted USC in the first Classic and lost 42-29 in front of only 39,507 fans.
When reached by phone on Thursday, a MetLife Stadium box office official would not say how many tickets have been sold, only saying the game is not sold out. As of Thursday evening, 140 listings for tickets to the game were available on StubHub with another 40 on eBay. The lowest listing on StubHub was going for $31 while the least expensive eBay option was $25.
“Playing at MetLife Stadium means a lot to our fans,” Penn State coach Bill O’Brien said. “We have close to 40,000 alums in that area. ... I’m hearing that it’s not a sellout. I’m not in charge of selling tickets but I would hope that that would be close to a sellout by Saturday because I think it’s a traditional game, too.”
A good amount of those tickets that have been sold have gone to Penn State fans, specifically Penn State players’ family members.
The Nittany Lions have 17 players from New York or New Jersey on the roster with 15 of those having grown up within an hour’s drive to where the old Giants Stadium and the current MetLife Stadium stands. For senior safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, who grew up across the Hudson River in the Bronx, it was just a 20-mile trek to the complex.
“Me being from New York and us playing at Giants Stadium is like a dream come true,” Obeng-Agyapong said. “Coming to Penn State, being four hours away from home but finally having a game right next to your hometown is a good opportunity. I actually have a lot of family and extended family coming to the game so it’s going to be a good chance for me to play and show these guys that their boy is out there playing D-1 football.”
Jordan Lucas (New Rochelle, N.Y.), Angelo Mangiro (Roxbury, N.J.), Brendan Mahon (Randolph, N.J.), Jesse Merise (Hillside, N.J.), Garrett Sickels (Red Bank, N.J.) and Anthony Smith (Dover, N.J.) also grew up fairly close.
While Bill Belton (Sicklerville, N.J.), Brandon Bell (Mays Landing, N.J.), Austin Johnson (Galloway, N.J.), Anthony Alosi (Marlton, N.J.), Chris Gulla (Toms River, N.J.) and Glenn Carson (Manahawkin, N.J.) grew up a little farther away from the Meadowlands, Saturday’s game will still provide their families with a favorable travel plan to see Penn State play its opener.
Carson grew up a Giants fan like Obeng-Agyapong. For Carson, it will be his first trip to the new stadium after he attended Giants games at the old Giants Stadium as a kid.
“I’ve been a Giants fan since Phil Simms in the early ’90s, so I’m really looking forward to playing at MetLife,” Carson said.
And O’Brien is looking forward to seeing how his team responds and tries to run its active winning streak to three games.
“I do think anytime you play in New York City you’re on a big stage,” O’Brien said. “It’s on ABC and it’s a big game. I think everybody around here has to understand that 2012 is over. I know our players understand that so it’s not so much building on momentum from last year. It’s more about, OK, what is this ’13 team going to do?”