Now that I reside in the Midwest, I must take every opportunity to go see my Penn State Nittany Lions play when they are within driving distance in Big Ten territory. I decided to make the trek to Champaign, Illinois to watch Penn State take on the Fighting Illini on a rare Friday night showdown on FS1. I was warned by the friends I attended the game with that the crowd would be disappointing and I kind of just shrugged off that comment because what fanbase does not get fired up for a primetime game against a top ten team? I can answer that question now. The University of Illinois does not.
Half of Memorial Stadium (clever name, no one has ever called their stadium memorial stadium ever) was empty when the game kicked off at 8pm CST. It was not like it was a big financial commitment to go to this game, with student tickets only costing $10 a piece. I got the privilege to experience the Illinois student section. There were a few moments where the fans got excited, the loudest coming after a reverse touchdown pass from Trenard Davis to Ricky Smalling to give the Illini a 24-21 lead in the third quarter. At this point, I was getting slightly nervous, but when you bring the big trick play out that early against a team that has thrived in the second half all season, I was confident the Nittany Lions would win the game. Miles Sanders did not allow Penn State to surrender the lead for too long, taking a handoff to the right for 48 yards and put the team back up by four points.
This is the point in the night where I got triggered and why we need to consider taking away Illinois’s football program. As the third quarter ended, Penn State faced a third and 12 at the Illinois 16-yard line, up by four points. This upcoming play was the most important one for the Illini this season. This sorry football program is one quarter away from potentially taking down a top ten program that they have real animosity with, dating back to their former dickhead head coach, Tim Beckman. This crowd should be going wild at this very moment. Every fan in that stadium should have been holding up four fingers, indicating the fourth quarter starting, like a normal crowd would be doing in this situation. You know what the Illinois student section was doing? Those fuckers were sitting down.
As a man with college football integrity (might be the only integrity I have but that is beside the point), I could not stand for this, even if it meant the crowd would be louder and hurting my team. A few fireball shots might have given me the courage to curse out all the students sitting around me, calling them sad and pathetic for not standing up and screaming as loud as they possibly can. One of the guys in the front row (one row in front of where I was) listened to my slander and gave it right back to me. This young scholar calls me fat (not wrong), ugly (definitely could be uglier), and a child molester (We Are?) and the response from this half-assed hometown kid electrified the student section and brought them to their feet. This was one of the proudest moments of my life. I was able to turn a lifeless student section into a serviceable group of rowdy fans. Moments later, Trace McSorley maneuvered through the collapsing pocket and hit Juwan Johnson for a 16-yard touchdown pass. Two plays later, Jan Johnson picked off M.J. Rivers II. The next play, KJ Hamler caught a 50-50 ball for a touchdown. In the matter of ten minutes in real time, the game went from a potential upset to an absolute slaughtering of an abysmal football program.
I learned a valuable lesson on Friday night—the football gods do exist, and I was rewarded for trying to save the integrity of Illini football. It was not in my interest as a Nittany Lions fan to try and help my opponent, but as a fan of the greatest sport on Earth, it was my duty to make sure these fans showed their players that they cared about them. I do not blame Lovie Smith and his team for not performing. When your fans don’t show their appreciation, I would lose to Rutgers too.
The freshmen students standing behind me were understanding of my frustrations, but a few other individuals were not as generous. I was questioned by one of the students why I can still root for Penn State after the Sandusky stuff and called me a child molester a few times on top of the previous gentleman. This is the price you pay for going to Penn State. I will be hearing Jerry Sandusky comments the rest of my life, especially with my passion for traveling to different sporting venues. It is what it is. I get it. I do not blame anyone for ever making those comments because God knows I have the Urban Meyer trash talk ready to go this week, but I will never let the acts of one fucked up man define a whole university and all the alumni coming out of that school.
Three big takeaways from Friday Night:
- Penn State went 1-0 this week.
- I take full responsibility for the revival of the Illini student section, giving the Nittany Lions the karma they needed.
- College Gameday is coming back to Happy Valley for the Whiteout against Ohio State and we all know when there is a Whiteout, anything can happen.
That is what a crowd should sound like.