22 years ago - or somewhere thereabouts - I walked into the Carrier Dome as a very green college football fan.
I had grown up in South Central Pennsylvania and really didn't know there was much to College Football other than Joe Paterno and his Nittany Lions. Like most Pennsylvania youngsters, I grew up rooting for the Lions. I remember Craig Fayak beating #1 Notre Dame at Notre Dame Stadium, I remember Kevin Baugh running punts back in the Sugar Bowl, I remember Pete Giftopolous intercepting Vinny Testaverde one last time to give the Nits a National Championship in the Fiesta Bowl.
In reality, I was probably ticketed for Penn State. And I was fine with that. Perhaps even happy about it. But I took a chance with an application to the best journalism school in the country. Something separated my application from the others. Perhaps it was that letter of recommendation from none other than a Penn State grad. So when so many of my high school friends went to State College, I went further north.
Either way, I went to Syracuse as a Penn State fan. I didn't tell many people that. After all, that was blasphemy on the Hill. But I did win a friendly wager with another freshman when Penn State shellacked Georgia Tech in the Kickoff Classic before I ever saw the Orange play. Tony Sacca threw a bunch of touchdowns if I recall.
So when I went into the Dome, I wasn't quite sure to expect. I had great seats, I remember that. 2nd row on about the 25-yard. I'm guessing sending that ticket application back fast and holding the class registration papers had something to do with it. Priorities.
Vanderbilt was the opponent that afternoon. Gerry DiNardo brought success with him from Colorado, and some new Vandy helmets designed to make them look more Coloradish. The Orange was clearly the better team that day. Guys like Tony Montemorra, Tim Sandqvist, Marvin Graves, David Walker, Qadry Ismail, and the late great Kevin Mitchell made an impact on me that day.
I was hooked.
Raised to be a Penn State fan.
Now, Orange for Life.
So as I walked out of the Dome that afternoon, I wanted only one thing.
A chance to play Penn State.
Finally, some 22 years later we're getting that chance. I know we played them, twice in fact, several seasons ago. But that wasn't real. Greg Robinson had hijacked our football program and that wasn't really who we were. I didn't wake up on either of those Saturday mornings expecting anything out of the football game.
So now, I'm back in South Central PA. I've got all these Penn State fans around. And I'm the guy wearing the Syracuse colors to work the day before the game. I'm the guy driving the car with the PA license plate that reads - "GO CUSE".
I couldn't be happier.
We've got our chance.
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