Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote about our trip to State College, PA when our Auburn Tigers played the Penn State Nittany Lions. It was the first road trip that Mary Lou and I had taken since the arrival of Covid, and it did not disappoint.
Mary Lou and I joined our friends, Ed and Becky Lewis, and planned to park near the stadium with a parking pass I had purchased for an outrageous price. I paid extra to have the parking pass overnighted to our hotel, but alas, it never arrived.
Hoping for a miracle, we went to the parking lot anyway. I showed the two young girls at the gate my confirmation from SeatGeek and the charge to my American Express. Believing us to be legitimate, they summoned their supervisor. Jim Little became our new best friend as he got us a parking pass and put us on a small spit of grass that may have been the best parking spot in all of Happy Valley.
Later, we could not find our tailgate area and who should show up but Jim Little, who used his radio to find the location of the Auburn tailgate area and gave us directions. Later, Jim arrived in his golf cart at the tailgate to make sure we had found our way, I was so blown away by his efforts that I wrote an article a year ago entitled “My New Best Friend” https://www.donalsonvillenews.com/2021/09/23/our-new-best-friend
I promised to repay Jim Little for his help by inviting him down to Auburn for the Auburn-Penn State game this year. Then I promptly lost his contact information. Unfortunately, I was not able to send him the article I had written about his Good Samaritan actions. It was just two weeks before this year’s Penn State game when I finally found Jim’s email. I promptly contacted him and offered him two tickets to the game.
It turns out Jim remembered our interaction and accepted the invitation to come to Auburn for the game. Flights were impossible to arrange at that point, so Jim and his wife, Heather, drove down for the game.
The three couples, Ed and Becky Lewis, Jim and Heather Little, and Mary Lou and I gathered at the Rooftop Terrace of the new Laurel Hotel. We were able to show our visitors the spectacular view which was punctuated with a made-to-order orange and blue sunset. Dinner at a local restaurant followed.
The next day our Penn State guests joined us at our tailgate. Two other Penn State couples were also there. It was a great gathering, and the spirit of college football was all around us.
The game result did not really have anything to do with the weekend, disappointing as it was for Auburn fans. Rather, my memory will always be the delightful time we had with Jim and Heather Little. Keep in mind that notwithstanding Jim’s great assistance to us in our time of need, we had only met him once in a football game parking lot. We had not met his wife at all.
I should not be surprised that Heather was the mirror image of Jim. She was friendly and engaging and a delight to be around. For two days, the three couples enjoyed each other in the best possible way. This is what college football is supposed to be all about.
Winning and losing is important, and perhaps that is even what pays the bills. But there is something to be said about joining a couple from the opposing team, repaying a favor, and enjoying each other’s company. For this special weekend, the game result was not as important as our time together.
I wrote a year ago that Jim Little had forever changed my thoughts about Penn State. I hope that he and his wife, Heather, can now say the same thing after their visit to Auburn. In fact, my reading of social media posts since the game seem to indicate that Penn State enjoyed Auburn as much as we enjoyed visiting Penn State a year ago.
While some may complain about Auburn’s lackluster performance against Penn State, I will remember it as one of the most special football weekends of my life. It does not mean that I was not disappointed in the results of the game. Rather, it means that I was grateful for the time spent with our adversaries, that once upon a time did me a great favor. I was happy to be able to repay that favor.
Exactly a year ago, I wrote a great story about our visit to Penn State. Today, I write Part Two of that story. We can only hope the story of our Penn State Guardian Angels will continue.
Friendships ease the pain of losing and smooth the edge of winning. Lifting a toast to each other at the end of a hard-fought game is what college football should be all about.
“We Are”. “War Eagle”. Two proud traditions that seem to unexpectedly fit each other perfectly. I wish that we could play more often. Win or lose, I will fondly remember our Penn State guests and continue to tell the great story of how they helped us in our time of need.
Dan Ponder can be reached at email@example.com