Halftime Notebook | PSU fans revel in season home opener

Alice Karetas plays washers with her family at their tailgate outside of Beaver Stadium.
Alice Karetas plays washers with her family at their tailgate outside of Beaver Stadium. CDT photo

Sue Wilson stood on Porter Road to welcome the Penn State football team with a sign that said “Hackenberg for Heisman.”

The 1971 Penn State graduate has lived in Cleveland since the mid-1970s but hasn’t missed a Penn State home football game — or a bowl game featuring the Nittany Lions — in about 30 years.

“It’s pride and love for the team,” she said.

But Wilson never goes to the game without a couple of things fellow tailgaters called her trademark: customized homemade banners.

For each game, Wilson paints and hand stitches each banner with game themes.

“I’ve been doing it for years,” Wilson said. “I make them for us and our friends.”

At Saturday’s game against the University of Akron, she held one sign that recognized quarterback Christian Hackenberg, and another that said “Nittany Nation is ready to roar.”

“It’s their first home game. We’re here for support,” Wilson said.

Wilson said she will take out other game day banners that say “Dominate Ohio State,” and “The Sparty is over,” as a play on words for the Michigan State game Nov. 29.

Her car was parked at the Bryce Jordan Center lot in the first row across from Beaver Stadium. It’s the same space she’s occupied for about 30 years with the same six families in the spots next to hers.

“They’re my second family,” Wilson said. “We’ve been parked here together for years.”

This year, some members of the undefeated 1994 Penn State team joined her tailgate. She met some players at a convention in Harrisburg earlier this summer and invited them for the pregame party, Wilson said.

About 50 members of the 1994 team were honored during halftime as part of the 20th reunion weekend.

They included former co-captains Brian Gelzheiser, Bucky Greeley, Willie Smith and Vin Stewart, as well as Mike Archie, Gerald Filardi, Matt Fornadel, Andre Johnson, Todd Kulka, Brian Milne, Joe Nastasi, Jim Nelson, Tony Pittman, Marco Rivera, Stephen Pitts, Wally Richardson, Brad Scioli, Freddie Scott, Mark Tate and Jon Witman.

Painted pride

Bennett Murphy was bent over with a paint brush in his hand at the 3200 block of the Red lot on the southeast side of Beaver Stadium.

He was putting the finishing touches on the beanbag-toss game he made with the help of his father, Jim Murphy.

The Penn State graduate was the first of his tailgating group to arrive Saturday morning and was in charge of getting their domain ready.

The grill was out, the portable chairs were up and a Penn State flag was hanging out of the window of his maroon Ford Explorer.

But one thing that wasn’t quite ready was the beanbag-toss game, otherwise known as cornhole.

“We had one, but it was old and broken, so instead of going out to buy a new one, I really wanted to just make one,” Bennett Murphy said.

Last week, Murphy cut the wood for the game and began to paint it like a football field.

Each piece of wood was painted green with white lines and a Big Ten logo in each corner.

Murphy was painting one plank that said Penn State in one end zone and Nittany Lions in the other.

Mascot fun and crowd reaction

The Nittany Lion mascot was riding on the cab of a truck around parking lots waving to tailgaters and taking pictures with fans.

Three-year-old Marci Heckman was dressed as a Penn State cheerleader when she approached the mascot with her arms out.

Her father, Don Heckman, said his daughter is usually shy about approaching strangers but said bonding with the Nittany Lion was a good sign.

“That confirms it,” Heckman said with a laugh. “She’s a die-hard fan already ... looks like we’re doing something right after all.”

The mascot then made its way to Beaver Stadium and ran onto the field to get the crowd pumped.

Fans in the packed student section cheered and chanted when the Lion pointed to them.

Student Matt Corsica grew up in an area where football was overshadowed by more popular sports, but he is hoping to bring his newly found fandom back to his Ontario hometown.

“I’m here. I’m all for Penn State and anything that surrounds it,” Corsica said. “Football isn’t as big (in Canada) as it is here, so I’m taking in the whole experience and will bring it back home.”