It isn’t about the money. I want to be clear about that much.
Two hundred and change is a lot to spend on anything, especially something you can watch for free on TV, but this particular decision is about more than economics. Economics can’t quantify the experience of a Pennsylvania State University football home game, let alone a full season’s worth of them.
Economics is inert, and football, at least in Happy Valley, is alive and well.
For the past three years, I was a part of this living, breathing organism. Each home game, nearly without exception, I counted myself among the 100,000 strong that squeezed into Beaver Stadium every Saturday in varying states of sobriety.
It wasn’t always perfect—far from it. Often it was cold, rainy, snowing, or wet. Rarely was the score close; never were the benches comfortable. But hey, that’s why we'd stand the whole game.
Sometimes, though, it was perfect—not in a SportsCenter top 10 kind of way, although we had our share of those too. It was in the way that made me feel a part of the events on the field, instead of just a bystander to them. It’s those moments that make sports fans invoke the first person plural “we” (as I have done many times in this article).
To boil it down to one moment, it’s Michigan’s O-line false starting whenever they’re near the south end zone, because everyone yells so loudly that no one talks in class on Monday.
And here I am, ticketless. It brings to mind that famous bathroom graffiti couplet: “Here I stand, broken hearted, all alone, because I farted.” What made me cut the cheese this year?
My decision has something to do with responsibility. There’s a certain amount of it implied when you pre-register for the lottery on May 27, then go online at 6:00 AM on June 22 to participate in something that blows any iPhone sale or Tickle Me Elmo craze out of the water: frantically refreshing a Ticketmaster homepage until your finger is sore and the buy button activates.
You click while waiting, and a million potential worst-case scenarios flash through your brain: “What if my Internet connection fails?” “What if the server is busy?” “What if my computer is too slow because of all that mal-ware from downloading porn?”
Then the transaction is approved, and you run circles around your house, fists raised, the neighbors awoken early by what sounded like a dying cat—yeah, a dying cat who got season tickets.
Ten minutes. 6:10 AM, and then they're gone, sold out; better luck next year. It's a 10-minute window where 40,000 fellow students swarm upon the heap of 21,000 available tickets, like flies to a puddle of pregame vomit.
For those three years I counted myself among the frantic refreshers, the lucky few who inhabit what is commonly called “the drinking town with a football problem.” And for a while, it was perfect.
But it’s just too much responsibility, too big of a burden. I’m a rising senior, I’m 21, and I’m too old for this!
The responsibility of waking up for noon kickoffs when you’ve been out all night before, and all you want is one more hour of sleep, is too much, and you have to pace yourself for the night games, staying till the end of blowouts, and being able to remember who played well and who got embarrassed.
It’s one thing to be a season ticket holder, and another thing to be a fan. I still remember the slurred words of a sorority girl spoken to me my freshman year: “Saturdays are great—you drink all morning, nap at the game, drink all night.”
There’s the responsibility of being shameless, too. Getting thrown in the air after every touchdown and field goal, chanting over and over the same four words, “We Are, Penn State” even though We Are Marshall, a one-star movie, made it cliché.
Besides, nobody mistakes us for UPenn anymore. It’s screaming maniacally for a guy in a lion suit who does half-decent Michael Jackson impressions and half-ass push-ups. At the Whiteout my sophomore year, I watched a stranger two rows in front of me pour an entire bottle of white acrylic paint on himself, and I thought, “Now, this guy gets it.”
I’m not bitter, though. I hope I haven’t given that impression. I’m actually quite relieved. I’ve had my moments in the sun already. I lost a tooth in Syracuse because of Penn State football, I got to help the Nittany Lion crowd surf, I met LaVar Arrington and Tamba Hali.
Late after one win I saw Joe Pa being driven away from the stadium, and I ran along the car for half a mile, holding on to the side like a drunken secret service agent. My dad once said of JoePa, “When I was there (class of '76) he was a legend. Today he seems immortal.”
I’ve even managed to convince myself that I didn’t not buy tickets; I just chose to pass them onto someone else—someone younger, with more energy, who has yet to form those memories which really lodge themselves in the noggin.
I can still recall with clarity the '95 Rose Bowl where Penn State clobbered Oregon (yet finished No. 2 nationally because Nebraska beat Miami in the Orange Bowl). My dad was literally jumping out of his chair as we started to run up the score, and I wondered what the big deal was.
“Of course we’re winning,” I thought. “After all, the other team’s mascot is a duck.”