On October 10 my husband Terry and I celebrated our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. It was a somewhat subdued celebration. We exchanged sweet anniversary cards in the morning, went out to dinner that evening. That was about it. No big fanfare. As it has been since we were married in 1987 on a perfect fall foliage weekend in New England.
That's just the way we are. We don't really exchange gifts or do anything really big on these types of occasions. Our attitude is that if there is a particular pleasure that either of us seeks we don't need to wait for a special occasion. We talk about it and then just do it if we can.
Also, on our anniversary, I had a full schedule of classes and a meeting. It was the middle of the week.
Still, 25 years is a milestone in so many ways, especially when your marriage is also the start of a very long relationship with Penn State and its football team that has impacted so much of your life, including your career.
When Terry and I discussed marriage, back in the fall of 1986, he made one thing perfectly clear: "Carolyn, there is one thing you need to know about me. I intend to go to Penn State football games. You can do one of two things: you can kiss me goodbye most weekend Saturdays in the fall or you can go with me."
I wasn't opposed to football. But I was completely oblivious, let me put it that way, because it's as kind as I can be to myself. I simply wasn't interested in football or most other sports.
Okay, maybe as a born and bred Bostonian I got excited about the occasional New England Patriots run at the playoffs. Or certainly the Red Sox or Celtics if they were having a good year. Despite all kinds of opportunities to learn ice skating as a kid (and a mandatory gym class on a cold pond behind my junior high school) I can't say that I ever became a fan of hockey and the Boston Bruins.
But sports were more of a "social butterfly" thing than anything else. It wasn't about watching the game. It was about cheering loudly in a bar somewhere in the Boston area with a bunch of friends and having a few beers and a good time.
I was a total neophyte to college football. The only really decent college football team in Boston was a couple of miles from where I lived. Boston College was on the street car line that stopped in front of my apartment in Brookline, Massachusetts. It was in fact the school that all my Catholic friends in high school aspired to attend, that is, if they couldn't get accepted to Notre Dame. That's all I knew about it.
I remember one year when Doug Flutie was a quarterback for Boston College. I still remember a bunch of folks who boarded the same street car as me who were dressed in maroon and gold and cheering loudly because Flutie had just won the Heisman Trophy.
But honestly I had no idea who Flutie was or why anyone was so excited. And what's the Heisman Trophy?
When Terry and I were actively planning the wedding, I was thinking about a fall wedding, anathema to most college football fans. I asked Terry what date would work for him.
He immediately consulted the Penn State football schedule, chose the open date, and declared October 10th. In fact, he told me that was the ONLY date in the fall that would work.
But that was okay. In fact, it was perfect, I thought. Columbus Day weekend in Boston, the height of the fall foliage season.
I loved the fall. And I found the perfect location: a log cabin chapel at a Baptist camp in Groton Massachusetts that I was familiar with, because I had worked there as a teenager/college student. In fact, a childhood dream was about to come true, because as a teenager I had always thought this would be the perfect setting for a wedding.
Wedding plans were humming along. Until about two months before the wedding.
That's when TV scheduling intervened and moved the open date for Penn State football. Penn State was going to play Rutgers on October 10th on TV.
There was no going back. Terry was upset, but we couldn't change the wedding date. Terry had to suck it up and miss a Penn State football game to marry me.
But then he started working on the honeymoon.
Penn State was playing Syracuse on October 17th, at Syracuse. Terry immediately proposed for our honeymoon that we take a driving trip through upstate New York.
Understand that for about a year I had been working on a project for my company that required my presence in New York City five days per week. The team location was an office building in downtown New York City, Times Square. On Monday morning I would fly from Boston to New York and on Friday afternoon I would fly home to Boston.
So when I told my boss I was about to marry someone from Allentown PA and I asked if I could transfer permanently to New York City, he was very supportive.
I was actively looking for a job near Allentown, and trying to do that from Boston was next to impossible. I felt that it was best to relocate there as soon as possible.
And so, for the four or five months just before our wedding, I had been commuting. From Allentown, PA. to downtown Manhattan.
And on weekends? The best way to describe this is by referring to the singing telegram that my best friend Jeanne Gillis sent us at our wedding (to the tune of I've Been Working on the Railroad...)
"Carolyn's been riding on the bus...all the livelong day.
Going into New York City and back to Allentown PA...
Can't you hear your Terry calling...we're off to a Penn State game..."
Which, by the way, was 185 miles one way on each Saturday morning.
Plus a driving trip that September to play Boston College at Foxboro Stadium. During which time we also had to apply for a marriage license!
So...as far as our honeymoon was concerned, the last thing that I wanted to do after commuting six hours per day on a bus and then driving to and from Penn State games on weekends was to go to upstate New York on a driving fall foliage trip for our honeymoon.
I just wanted to get off any form of ground transportation and relax - completely. A beach seemed like the right approach to me. We decided on the Bahamas, for ten lovely days.
We did not pay much attention to the Penn State-Rutgers game on October 10th. We were a bit busy with our wedding. Penn State did win that game 35-21.
On October 17th - exactly 25 years ago today - at our hotel on Cable Beach in the Bahamas, we tried very hard to find the Penn State-Syracuse game on TV. We did find it, but unfortunately there were transmission problems, and so instead we were shown some newscast about a private plane crashing into a motel somewhere in the midwest that dominated the airwaves that day and was shown over and over again.
We eventually gave up on the Penn State-Syracuse game and went back to the beach (or the casino, I don't remember which) and enjoyed the rest of our honeymoon.
It's just as well. Penn State lost that game 21-48.
Thus I became a Penn State football fan, through marriage 25 years ago. It wasn't always easy.
There was a very cold game at Beaver Stadium that year - against Notre Dame in November - the wind chill factor was -40 in the stadium. Penn State was empty in the fourth quarter, it was so cold.
But neither Terry nor his friends would leave. They were going to stick it out through all that cold to watch Penn State pull out a 21-20 win. I spent the entire third quarter in the ladies' room trying to get my toes defrosted before heading back to the stands to watch the finish.
That's when I realized how dedicated Terry was about Penn State. That summer I headed to L.L. Bean and bought boots and other apparel that would withstand that sort of temperature.
I felt so stupid at times. I remember going to a Maryland away game where after the game we had dinner at Johnny Unitas' Golden Arm Restaurant. Terry and his friends couldn't contain their laughter when I asked, "Who's Johnny Unitas?"
And then in 1988, in Birmingham, we were at another restaurant where the folks next to us said, "Hey, there's Bart Starr!" I turned to Terry and asked again. He just chuckled.
I've learned not to ask. Now, I just use Google.
Something amazing happened along the way.
I think it was around 1988 or 1989 that I realized how much fun it was to follow Penn State to away games (visiting Alabama in 1988 and Texas in 1989 influenced me greatly).
It was no longer Terry that defined my passion for Penn State football. I discovered I enjoyed it and loved it too.
And so it was me who suggested to Terry that we try to make it to all Penn State football games, including all away games, for one year.
In 1990 we made every game except the USC game in September, and we've been doing it ever since.
Twenty five years of marriage, and Penn State football. It's been a very fun ride.
As for this weekend, on to Iowa! And yet another new experience: we will be boarding a train called the "Hawkeye Express" to get to the game.
And among others, we will be meeting up with Tyler Schraeder, a lifetime Penn State football fan whose dad is a Penn State grad and whose mom is an Iowa fan. Tyler lives in Omaha, Nebraska and is a senior in high school.
Ironically, Tyler just announced that he has been accepted to the University of Iowa for college. But he swore to me this week that his allegiance won't change.
Go Penn State! Beat the Hawkeyes!