Good Life

Dapper tailgater brings a dash of formality to football

Joe Desmond, aka Tuxedo Joe, walks around Beaver Stadium before the Penn State football game against Kent State on Sept. 3.
Joe Desmond, aka Tuxedo Joe, walks around Beaver Stadium before the Penn State football game against Kent State on Sept. 3. adrey@centredaily.com

Conventional wisdom states that you should dress for the job you want, not the job that you have — and Joe Desmond wanted to be the fan of a championship-winning football team.

The year was 1983 and while the world of high fashion was busy contending with parachute pants, the Penn State Nittany Lions were in New Orleans locking down a Sugar Bowl victory over the Georgia Bulldogs.

Desmond was there that night, too, his overalls blue but his spirits high.

While continuing to ride that wave all the way home, he turned to his wife, Sally, and told her that he thought that it was high time they took their sartorial sensibilities to the next level.

“We’re national champs. We’ve got to be classier now,” Desmond told his wife.

Bottom line: If you want to dress a tuxedo down, wear it in white — or to a football game.

Desmond, of Mill Hall, has been wearing a tux that he personally bedazzled with Penn State regalia since 1983. He has good hands — maybe not in the same way that the kids on the football field do, but he has managed to fuse his passion for the game with his knack with a needle and thread.

He wears his enthusiasm quite literally on his sleeve, as anyone who has ever sat even remotely close to seats 20 through 26, row 43, section NB during a game in Beaver Stadium can attest.

It usually gets a positive response.

Joe Desmond

“It usually gets a positive response,” Desmond said, although there was that one incident in Iowa when a kid threw a football at him when he wasn’t looking.

Desmond first matriculated to Penn State in 1964, on the auspices of the National Defense Education Act. He was already bleeding blue and white by the time he met Sally, whose unabashed enthusiasm for all things Nittany Lion helped push his own fandom over the top.

It helped that Desmond was the proud owner of a handful of season tickets that he purchased not long after he and his mother won $50,000 in the Pennsylvania Lottery.

Sally complemented his white tuxedo with a sharp blue suit and the two were a regular fixture at Penn State games, both at home and occasionally abroad. She died in 2012 after a 10-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

Fortunately Desmond has never lacked for company — having five children tends to buffer one against the threat of loneliness — but there’s also his standing invitation with the same Downingtown-based group that he has been tailgating with for the past three decades.

I’ve become pretty much a guy who goes and enjoys the game. It’s not life or death.

Joe Desmond

“I’ve become pretty much a guy who goes and enjoys the game,” Desmond said. “It’s not life or death.”

He is now on his third tuxedo. Desmond doesn’t make it to many away games anymore. There are some days when even a trip to Beaver Stadium can feel like a bit of stretch.

If you do, by chance, visit Beaver Stadium and see an empty seat in row 43, section NB, don’t make the mistake of assuming that the Nittany Lions’ most dapper supporter is absent.

“My heart’s always there,” Desmond said.

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready

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