The Auburn – Penn State game last Saturday was quite an experience. My wife, Mary Lou, and I used the game as an excuse to take our first true road trip since the pandemic began. We left a week ago traveling to Knoxville. We woke up on Wednesday and walked all through the University of Tennessee campus. It truly got us in the mood for a big football weekend.
From there we headed to the Greenbrier, known as America’s Resort. It is quite a showplace with an enormous amount of history from its long, storied past. 27 American Presidents have visited the Greenbrier. Five sitting Presidents actually stayed there before the Civil War.
After a couple of days at the Greenbrier, we visited the Flight 93 Memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. It was the last of the 911 related memorials for us to visit and was worth the effort. The back roads gave us a glimpse of the beautiful countryside of the rural mountain area. The memorial site was overwhelming. It was done so tastefully and respectfully that you cannot help but be touched by a visit there.
The main reason for our road trip was up next. State College, PA. For the next 48 hours it was non-stop people. We met people from Auburn everywhere we turned, including friends dating back to high school. We met up with and traveled to the stadium with dear friends from Auburn, Donalsonville, and other places far and wide. It seemed as if we were meeting more friends in State College than we might at a home game in Auburn.
Alas, everything did not go perfectly. Parking is a big deal when 110,000 people pour into a relatively small town. I had ordered a parking pass from SeatGeak right next to the stadium. It was the most I had ever paid for a parking space, had a $75 service fee and I paid an extra $65 to have it overnighted to my hotel. It never arrived.
With high hopes and low expectations, we traveled to the lot anyway to see if they would let us in. I had a confirmation and my American Express account had already been charged. Unfortunately, the confirmation did not have the space number. The lot was right in the middle of the Penn State tailgating area, and they were towing anything improperly parked.
That is when our luck changed. The entrance was being manned by two delightful young ladies, Jaely Tripp and Demea Owens. While they could not let us enter the already packed lot (they start early at Penn State), they agreed to radio someone who could talk with us. A few minutes later, we met our new best friend and hero, Jim Little.
Jim drove up on a golf cart in a few minutes and listened to my story. He reiterated that if he let us park, we would simply be towed since our confirmation did not indicate an actual space. Then he said the words that will forever change the way I might feel about Penn State. “I am going to find a way to help you out”.
Jim drove off and brought us back a coveted parking pass that he had made himself. He then guided us back into a small spit of grass right at the gate. It may have been the best, most convenient spot in all of Happy Valley for a football game.
Thanking Jim, Jaely and Demea profusely, we were then on our way to the famed Penn State Berkey Creamery, the largest university creamery in the United States. We waited in line for over 30 minutes to get our own scoop and it did not disappoint.
We set off then in search of the Auburn tailgate area. We were invited to join the Engineering School’s tailgate which was adjacent to the Auburn Alumni tent, and more than a dozen other Auburn tailgates. The problem was that we could not find it. It was hidden in a small, depressed area that was not visible unless you knew exactly where to look.
After a long search, we were growing hot, tired, and exasperated. Who should show up but our Penn State Guardian Angel, Jim Little. He used his trusted radio, located the tailgate we were looking for and sent us on our way.
An hour or so later, we glanced up from under the tailgate tent and who should be driving up but Jim Little. In one of the most chaotic days of the year, Jim had taken the time to drive over to the tailgate to make sure we had found our way safely.
You would think that after visiting Penn State during a whiteout game, my article would be about how Auburn played, how hard fought the game was, or even how high in the sky our seats were. Instead, I wanted to tell you about the last memory I have of Penn State University.
Jaely, Demea and Jim forever changed how I view Penn State. In fact, 99 percent of the Penn State fans we met were just as friendly as we would like to think we are when visitors come to our campus.
Thanks for all your assistance, Jim. You are our new best friend. We hope we can repay the favor when Penn State comes to Auburn. Despite the disappointing outcome for Auburn fans, it was what football is all about. Spending time with old friends and making new ones.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org