Blue- and white-clad fans filled Scottsdale Stadium’s green seats on Friday afternoon with a heightened sense of anticipation ahead of Saturday’s Fiesta Bowl.
Nittany Lion faithful started “We Are” chants as “Zombie Nation” blared and Penn State-Iowa highlights played on the left-field videoboard. Youngsters donning white Fiesta Bowl T-shirts ran around the concourse of the San Francisco Giants’ 12,000-seat spring training home, while older alumni secured their seats just behind the backstop — a dead-ahead view of the balloon-covered stage at home plate.
Penn State brought Happy Valley to the Valley of the Sun.
Parents, lettermen, cheerleaders, administrators, the Blue Band, James Franklin and his team and about 7,000 supporters packed Scottsdale Stadium for a vibrant pep rally ahead of Saturday’s matchup with Washington.
“At this point, I shouldn’t be surprised by the type of support we get,” Franklin said. “But once again, thank you all so much.”
Thousands rose to their feet as the fourth-year coach and the players he brought along — mostly freshmen such as KJ Hamler and Damion Barber — were introduced, screaming and whistling until Franklin ultimately cracked a smile.
Franklin told those holding beer cans and sippy cups alike that the Nittany Lions were in good standing academically and amped to face Washington.
But he put the fans to a small challenge: Wear white.
“I do think we have a little bit of responsibility to show the West Coast and to show the Pac-12, and specifically Washington, what a White Out looks like,” the coach said. “We request that you guys wear white pants, white shirts, white hats ...”
Then, Franklin paused and saw a lone fan standing, yelling and waving his arms wildly. The older gentleman sported a shimmery white mohawk.
Franklin pointed to him and said, “And white mohawks!”
Franklin turned the mic over to junior linebacker Frank DiLeo, who thanked the Nittany Lion fans for their support. Moments later — after Penn State president Eric Barron and his wife, Molly, offered a few rousing words — former Penn State players Bryant Johnson and Jimmy Kennedy closed things out.
Johnson, a wideout who tallied 2,013 yards from 1999-2002 and played nine years in the NFL, praised Penn State fans for “bringing Beaver Stadium to Arizona.”
Meanwhile, Kennedy offered strong words on where Penn State is and where it will go with the current coaching staff. Kennedy — a first-team All-American in 2002 and Super Bowl champion — said everything up to this point has been “stepping stones” for the program under Franklin.
But two of the final words he spoke drew the largest ovation of the day.
“Now we expect nothing less than 10-win seasons,” Kennedy said with a smile. “We’ve won the Big Ten. We were a few plays away from having that rose in our mouth. We’re going to fiesta our way out after we get this win.
“And then the next thing is just a national championship.”