Herald Journal Columns
Jan. 9, 2006, Herald Journal / Enterprise Dispatch

Bowling in the sunshine state

By Matt Kane

I went bowling Tuesday night.

The funny shoes, matching shirts, and liquid-encouraged fraternizing were all present. As were the oversized men high-fiving and dancing after key strikes.

But there were no greased up lanes and goose-necked pins at my bowling experience, just a finely manicured and striped grass field with highlighter-yellow goal posts on each end.

The venue: Dolphins Stadium in Miami for the 72nd Orange Bowl.

Cue the Miami Vice theme song.

Now, close your eyes (leave one open so you can continue reading) and imagine cruising in the sun with the top down and the palm trees blurring by on both sides.

Actually it wasn’t a convertible, I don’t think that’s an option on the Dodge Neon, but the rest of it is true.

It was just me, the sunshine, and 50,000 of my closest friends clothed from head-to-toe in blue and white, soaking in another chapter of Penn State football.

Any football fan knows that the book on college football is made up of much more than just the games. It’s all about tailgating and coming together with a hoard of people with the same goals in mind.

It had been four years since I last socialized with the Nittany Lion pride, but it’s like riding a bike.

Never having met 49,995 of those friends that joined me in Miami before made the pregame ceremony – an eight-hour tailgating session – necessary so we could all get to know each other.

It starts with asking for a bottle opener, and the next thing you know, you are joining the enforcers at the parking lot checkpoint that was formed by a couple dozen of us blue and white bleeders. As a car would approach, one member would stop it and check the loyalty of its occupants. Penn State backers were let through with a welcome cheer, while motorists donning Florida State’s garnet and gold were let through, but the greeting was not as kind. Responses often fit the welcome.

The tightest bonds with fellow fans are often formed in the most volatile of places, in the line to the port-a-john, when a man’s ability to think is altered by the increasing pressure on his bladder wall.

It is in that line of urinaters where generation gaps are erased. Class of 2000 graduates – like this reporter – can speak freely with those from 1983, often recalling the same experiences at one of the never-changing landmarks or watering holes – they are often one and the same.

But, ultimately, the conversation revolves around the single man who erases those generation gaps by himself: Joe Paterno.

Everything about him breathes old school – Coke bottle glasses, high water pants, neck tie and the ornery attitude – yet nobody in State College is more popular with the current students than JoePa.

Maybe that’s because he could out-run half of them.

An estimated 10,000 people showed up for the team’s pep rally the night before the game, no doubt everyone was waiting to hear from the coach.

The man who stood across the sideline at the Orange Bowl, Bobby Bowden, runs parallel with Paterno. Both can leave a reporter with the quote of a lifetime. Both are in their 40th season of coaching (Bowden leads in wins, 359-354). And both were coaching when John F. Kennedy was in office.

But the support for Paterno and Penn State at Dolphins Stadium far out did anything the Seminoles received.

I vaguely remember, between flirting sessions with the coed sitting next to me and atomic elbows I laid on my brother to wake him up, many renditions of the Tomahawk Chop, whereas “We are. . .Penn State” drowned the stadium on several occasions.

The game, itself, wasn’t exactly an ESPN Instant Classic, but a win is a win.

Another thing about college football is that there is no worse feeling to a fan covered in the losing team’s colors than having to walk back to the car through crowds of gloating fans.

After the 26-23 triple overtime win, there was no shame, and the five-hour game soaked up all my energy to gloat. Maybe the gloating part will come back to me after watching the replay.

Hopefully, my brother can stay awake this time.

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