Phyllis Smith was given high-fives and hugs after Penn State’s win Saturday morning, just as kicker Sam Ficken was embraced by the football team after his last-second field goal.
The 85-year-old Nittany Lion fan said the team’s 26-24 win over the University of Central Florida at the Croke Park Classic in Dublin was just the icing on the cake for what she thinks will be a memorable season under first-year coach James Franklin.
“This Ireland game was a special start to the season,” Smith said. “I’ve been to a lot of home games and rarely miss an away game on TV, so I’ve seen a lot. I loved Joe Paterno. He was the face of this university and community, and I liked (Bill) O’Brien. I equally like James Franklin. I think he’s a good addition to a great team.”
Smith said she’s never missed a home game, where she and husband, Jay Smith, have sat in row 11 of Section ND for nearly 50 years. She was in high school when she attended her first Penn State game, and even watches the replays of the games on TV after she attends them live.
“We could change seats, but we love the folks we sit with,” Phyllis Smith said. “I sit through rain, snow and sleet, and you can guarantee I’ll always be there. There’s nothing that will stop me.”
And when she couldn’t make it to Ireland, Smith helped spearhead a senior tailgate party with neighbor and friend Ann Gibboney at their English Meadows condominium clubhouse.
“We may be old, but we still have a lot of life left to party,” Smith said.
Resident Marilyn Charney said she and her husband, Andy, bought a 60-inch flat-screen TV for the clubhouse to replace a smaller and much boxier one for those game-day occasions.
About 30 seniors clad in blue and white attire made it to breakfast with dishes to share.
When the Nittany Lions made a good play, the residents jumped out of their seats and cheered. And when there was a play against them, choice words would fill the room.
“We keep jinxing ourselves,” said resident Dan Venturato, a 1955 Penn State graduate, about every time the group would cheer for a good play that would subsequently draw a penalty.
But what the fans wanted most was a win in Ireland, and a solid, healthy, winning season.
“So far, Franklin is a good coach, and hopefully he can lead the team into some wins,” said resident Harry Kropp, a 1963 grad. “We’re Penn State proud, and we hope they do well all year.”