Almost no one in the country does a college football game day quite like the Penn State Nittany Lions.
The added dynamic of this being Penn State’s annual Whiteout, aka “The Greatest Show In Sports,” pushed this into Tier 1A in my travels.
Greatest Show In Sports!
The Big Ten’s SEC Team
Every conference has a unique culture to it. Each individual member has their own culture as well, but conferences as a whole have very different feels to each of them.
In the case of the Big Ten, it’s hard-nosed football. Tradition. It’s the blue-collar, rust belt attitude. It’s the Midwest sentiment. Big Ten football is Big Ten football.
The SEC is about pageantry. Southern pride. Bigger and better. It just means more. Over-the-top passion and theater.
Penn State is an SEC program in the Big Ten Conference.
Those aren’t my words– they come directly from Andrew, our gracious host and conductor of the 409 Tailgate Club. From the widespread tailgating to the grandeur of the team entrance and even poms for Penn Staters in the stands, a Saturday in Happy Valley feels as boastfully SEC as Baton Rouge. Just with a Philly spice to it.
Of the limitless tailgating options available at Penn State, Andrew Bauhs of College Football Tour landed us the best option in State College. You may remember College Football Tour from his visit to TCU just last season.
409 Tailgate Group: The Premiere Penn State Experience
The other Andrew– the one hosting the tailgate– is a culinary master. Once a BBQ shop owner in Philadelphia, he makes and brands his own BBQ sauces and Bloody Mary mixes that are to die for. The “409” in the 409 Tailgate Group pays homage to Penn State legend Joe Paterno, who won 409 games in his illustrious career.
He grew up in a family that owned poultry shops in the Philly area and some happy tailgate guests later, he decided to take his talents professional and the rest is history.
You won’t find better chicken wings in the state of Pennsylvania than the ones that came off that grill.
It wasn’t just the fine folks at 409– the overall attitude of Penn Staters is welcoming. You can’t walk 20 feet without being greeted and invited to another tailgate. About 10,000 calories, some tailgate games, and a bit more drinks than expected, it was time to take in pregame.
Pregame At Beaver Stadium
Two and a half hours prior to game time, Penn State does their team walk. Nearly every team in the country does one now (a tradition started by Auburn), but Penn State’s is a little different. If you aren’t in line 30 minutes before the team arrives, you’ll be dodging heads to get a good look at the team. They even drag out stands for folks to stand on. It’s a big freakin’ deal.
The cheerleaders are led by an MC and the Penn State Nittany Lion makes his rounds. A few hype songs led by the marching band later and the team pulls up in style.
For decades, Penn State has arrived to Beaver Stadium in blue school busses. It’s been a tradition since and you likely won’t see them ever arrive to a home game from a coach bus.
Head Coach James Franklin brings up the rear with emphatic energy. Time to head inside.
The full marching band makes their grand entrance a half hour later. We found it best to enjoy that march from above and watched the parade from the ramps inside Beaver Stadium.
There’s nothing like it in sports. The visual is spectacular. 109,813 fans packed the second-largest non-racing stadium in the United States with exactly zero empty seats remaining. The sea of white is intimidating enough. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The tradition began in 2004 and was made official in 2007. While relatively new, the Whiteout has quickly been crowned an iconic staple tradition in college football. It’s also been named the most intimidating atmosphere in sports in multiple years. It’s usually reserved for Ohio State, Michigan, or a top-10 out of conference opponent. However, TV rights and the likes forced Penn State’s hand for this game.
While there were fears and comments about this Whiteout “not being the same,” the environment was unbelievable anyway.
For years, Penn State held the record for the loudest crowd at a sporting event in the US, clocking in at just over 120 decibels. That record was broken the week prior as Tennessee upset Alabama. For a gauge, 120 dBs is equivalent to a jackhammer and is just 10 dBs under the human pain threshold.
Words really can’t describe the scene when the team enters, so I’ll let my captured video do it instead:
Fireworks in Happy Valley! 109,813 fans packed Beaver Stadium for the annual Penn State Whiteout. No hope in posting anything yesterday, but just look at this visual pic.twitter.com/HC9B7bMpEy
— Brett Gibbons (@roadtocfb) October 23, 2022
If that doesn’t give you chills, then college football probably isn’t right for you.
No. 16 Penn State 45, Minnesota 17
The visiting Minnesota Golden Gophers entered this game without their veteran QB Tanner Morgan. In his place started a redshirt junior who had just 13 attempts in his career going in.
The poor kid never stood a chance, completing just nine of his 22 passes. The crowd also forced a false start on the first play with their deafening hollers.
Following a touchdown, the crowd gives three thunderous “WE ARE! PENN STATE!” echo chants followed by a “THANK YOU! YOU’RE WELCOME.” In total, 18 WE ARE PENN STATEs were given thanks to six Nittany Lion TDs in a 45-17 rout of Minnesota.
A couple other endearing traditions include a third-quarter singalong to “Sweet Caroline” and a stunning phone flashlight light show made possible thanks to the Penn State Athletics app. You can see it in the above video.
Sitting as high as we did was rewarding to take in the full extend of the whiteout crowd. But if you find yourself in the “U” sections (for “upper”), be sure to take a lap around the lower concourse inside the bowl. The noise is funneled much better down there and it gives you an idea of what opposing QBs have to work with.
Both are breathtaking in their own right.
One thing to note, you have three options when it comes to leaving State College: Leave early (not recommended), stay in town (if you don’t mind spending several hundred on hotels, great), or wait an hour to exit the general admission parking lot. We did the last option.
Penn State Game Day Grades
Stadium: A. It’s the second-largest stadium in college football and seeing it filled is a sight to behold. However, it doesn’t lose the intimate feel. The structure itself is one of the newer stadiums in the Big Ten– opened in 1960 (most opened in the early 1900s)– it’s one of the most impressive stadiums in the country. The scale is up there with LSU, Texas, and Texas A&M.
Tradition: A. Penn State deserves an A for the Whiteout alone, but the storied history of the Nittany Lions puts them among college football’s best. Their uniquely-SEC feel in the Big Ten does a lot to help that along.
Atmosphere: A+. Imagine 110,000 people who are all angry with you yelling at you for 60 minutes on end. There’s a reason Penn State forces timeouts and false starts regularly. It’s unbelievably uninviting for road teams and a truly awesome environment for friendlies.
Tailgating: A+. No one in the Big Ten can match the widespread nature of tailgating that Penn State boasts. Hardly anyone outside the Big Ten can, either. LSU and Ole Miss are famous for their tailgates, but Penn State should not be excluded from that conversation.
Fans: A+. Friendly. Welcoming. Passionate. Understanding of me even when they found out I cheer for Ohio State. Penn State fans are on the Mount Rushmore of fanbases.
Extracurriculars: C. Happy Valley is one of the most remote college towns in the country. There’s a few two lane roads in and out with one interstate nearby. But on Saturday in State College, you don’t need anything else.