Burgers or brats? It seemed like a trivial question for most Penn Staters this past weekend. Delegating purchases of cups and napkins or preparing pasta salad were menial tasks in comparison to the greater issue looming over a usually happy valley.
Still, though, droves of people woke up and made the pilgrimage to State College to show that while their faith may be in question, their way of life was not.
There were Penn State flags flown at half-mast while families and friends came together to grill hot dogs and burgers and drink hot cider. They played cornhole and washers and listened to music in the fields outside of Beaver Stadium. They lined up down the block for their turns to snap a photograph with the Joe Pa statue.
Ticket scalpers manned their usual corners; held their usual homemade signs indicating if they were buyers or sellers. Parking was a typical nightmare and the weather was unseasonably warm. People set up their camps and cooked their meals as if it were a normal Saturday in Happy Valley. In reality, it was anything but.
Conversations would trickle from clusters of people standing around grills or sitting by a table. They expressed disgust and disbelief toward the allegations against Jerry Sandusky. They condemned Joe Paterno for not doing enough or they’d condemn the university for firing the legendary coach. They held disdain for those involved that were still associated with the team and the university. But, they had these conversations over sausages and pulled pork. Talking about alleged sexual-abuse and the potential of a subsequent cover-up simply replaced discussions of blitz packages and blocking schemes as fans tossed a pigskin or played ladder golf.
The scandal enveloping Penn State and its community is a travesty. The people of the Penn State family are truly mortified that their school had a role in such despicable actions. But, there’s something to be said of the resilience demonstrated in the fields on Saturday before and after the Nittany Lions lost to Nebraska. Throwing some shrimp on the barbie may not always be an act of courage, but this weekend it was. For many, the scandal dominated their thoughts and conversations—their entire week had been dominated by a sensitive topic that affected everyone with ties to the university, in one way or another.
Fans donning shirts supporting organizations dedicated to heightening the awareness of child abuse fought traffic to get their cars close to Beaver Stadium. They shopped for food and drinks and planned for an afternoon that is usually propelled by high esteem and nostalgia. They marinated poultry, grilled patties and baked cookies. And, if even for a few hours, they were able to shift their focus to whether or not a burger was fully cooked or who was winning washers instead of harping over Joe Paterno’s hypothetical involvement or how deep a cover-up may run into the team’s staff and the university’s hierarchy.
It’s hard to find any winners in this scenario—even the Penn State offense couldn’t get it done against the Cornhuskers. But, Saturday afternoon was a step forward for the State College community and for Penn State fans. And luckily for their stomachs, it was a step forward that involved kielbasa and beer.
Mike Bertha is a Penn State grad from Philadelphia. You can read him daily on the Philly Post and follow him on Twitter at @MikeBertha.