Made my first trip to Happy Valley in a couple of years this past weekend, and 10 hours in the car gave me time for some thoughts. Your gain.
The place continues to grow. Unfettered capitalism at its tackiest. As Steve Jobs once said of extremely successful Microsoft, “The only problem with Microsoft is they just have no taste”. I challenge anyone to find five buildings in the borough appropriately proportioned, properly positioned within space, built with quality building materials and attention to craftsmanship. The whole place is like some virus strip mall. It grew before anyone with any sense of zoning or planning had a chance to see what the effects would be. It reminds me of the entrepreneurial spirt of the Jersey Shore - nothing built to last. Just easy money. The campus is slightly better, but a lot of the new construction suffers from a patina of “low-bid” public “architecture.”
One thing is clear - the kids have more money than we had. There are far more ways to capture discretionary money than when I was there.
The football program has really fallen. I’m sure the joint will be jumping Saturday. But here’s what this past weekend was like:
[ul][li]Checked online for hotel availability Thursday. Rooms available by the score for the season opener. Not a year before the game – two days before the game.[/li]
[li]No noticeable RV or fan traffic in the spot it usually starts to become an obvious caravan Friday nights - the Scranton-Wilkes Barre area.[/li]
[li]No Big Ten Network in my hotel. I don’t know why this struck me the way it did, but I was at Ground Zero for God’s sake.[/li]
[li]You could have swung a dead cat in the bar at The Tavern Friday night and you might not have hit anyone.[/li]
[li]Lots of empty Fat Cat parking spaces.[/li]
[li]Easily the smallest crowd I have ever seen at Beaver Stadium, save for some early 80s Blue-White games. I would not be surprised if the actual count was 65,000. It looked like a Pitt-Syracuse game. It was soul-sappingly hot and humid, and it made me recall the awful 1983 Cincinnati game, a 14-3 loss in a sweltering Beaver Stadium, packed shoulder to shoulder. In weather like that, half-full is better.[/li][/ul]
It’s difficult for someone who latched on to Penn State in the 70s and 80s imagining the lack of excitement for a new season.
Lots of good news, too: The students were great, showed up in higher proportion than the season ticket holders, by eyeball estimation. Lar, Cappy, Mrs. Cappy and BA looked happy and very healthy, and it was a real joy to reconnect with them.
I hobbled in too late to catch the Basketball tailgate, so I don’t have any $0.02 impressions to convey there. But I am excited about our long-term prospects.
As for football, the program could use some kind of system shock, like Paterno applied after the losing seasons (which, of course, in themselves were probably the shock to the core).
I’m reminded of summer visits to ski resorts, when the lack of a snow covering and a happy mob makes them look shabby, cheap and sad (try visiting one sometime). State College looks a thousand percent better with a happy mob overruning it.
Not to give a misimpression - I had a great time. It’s just that the negatives were striking.