UNIVERSITY PARK — Punctuality is important in life — particularly if you’re the one manning the grill.
Penn State’s annual Blue-White football game wasn’t scheduled to begin until 4 p.m., but Donald Mills and his cohorts had already cooked bratwurst, hotdogs and some buffalo chicken long before the opening snap. Mills arrived in State College at about 8:30 a.m. Saturday, making the roughly 90-minute drive from his home in Spring Run to the parking lot outside of Beaver Stadium.
From the looks of it, he brought a little bit of home with him. A wide tent shaded him — and perhaps more importantly, the food — from the beams of sun that heated the pavement. A small grill sat on the table beside him, the point of origin for many of the culinary delights that occupied the rest of the space.
It had been a long day and the main event, the Penn State football team scrimmage, was still almost an hour away. Mills didn’t mind. He was just happy to be there with his friends, supporting the team he has cheered for since he was a little boy.
“I’d rather be at a regular football game but I want the team to know that we’re here for them,” Mills said.
Mills’ tent wasn’t the only one to adorn the parking lot on this sunny afternoon. The age-old tradition of tailgating was alive and well, spurred by the presence of food trucks selling pizza, gyros and french fries. Some people strolled randomly around the stadium in groups while others were content to sit on the grass and relax.
“We’re here for the weather and the football team more than anything else,” Mills said.
And the football team was there for them. While Mills and company were outside eating, the athletes sat at a series of long tables spread across the football field, patiently signing posters, footballs and whatever else the long line of fans that snaked through the stadium placed into their hands.
Duke Kershner, of Montoursville, sat in the stands with a poster sporting several freshly affixed signatures. This was his sixth year traveling to State College for the Blue-White game and he was impressed with how the efficiency of the event — particularly the autograph signing — has continued to evolve.
“It’s more organized and detailed,” Kershner said.
Once the autograph session concluded, it was time for the players to begin warm-ups. Penn State freshmen Breslin McFarland and Vedant Tiward watched from the bleachers, taking in the sight of their first Blue-White weekend.
While neither McFarland nor Tiward considers himself a football fan, each came to to see if the experience lived up to the hype.
“We wanted to see how everything is — we’ve heard a lot about it,” Tiward said.
Dominic Wilson also arrived at Beaver Stadium with a pair of fresh eyes — althought to be fair, it’s tough for a boy to be jaded when he’s just one day shy of turning 7 years old.
“I’ve never been to a football game before,” Dominic said.
He made the most of the occasion, taking a photo with the Nittany Lion and visiting the Penn State All-Sports Museum. The jury was still out on the football game, but Dominic gave the rest of the day’s events an enthusiastic thumbs-up.
Happy customers are good for business, which in turn is good for Tim Ritter, a member of the Penn State event staff. Ritter was manning the tunnel where the football players would run through once the game began.
He said that the pregame traffic inside the stadium wasn’t much different than that of a regular season game, but that the attitude in the air was one of promise and enthusiasm.
“There’s still a sense of excitement and anticipation for the upcoming season,” Ritter said.