The sky was pale blue, the mountains in the distance russet with leaves getting to the winter side of their fall. The talk from both sides of the field was of an Orange New Year's Day in Miami, and the prose on the local sports pages was tinted bright purple.
"Sometime late tomorrow afternoon," proclaimed Friday afternoon's edition of the Centre Daily Times here, "when a November sun slides below the rim of Beaver Stadium and echoes of the whackin' and crackin' which took place there only hours before have died, a football team's dreams will lie in ruin on the soft, green turf."
The shattered reveries, such as they were, belonged yesterday to the University of Maryland, which was intimidated by a Penn State defense that performed splendors in the grass. The celebrated "Scrap Pack" threw the Terrapins' beleaguered offense for a net loss of 32 yards in 43 rushes, sacked the quarterback 10 times and intercepted five passes on its way to a resounding 27-3 victory.
It was only a football game, a notion with which Maryland's embarrassed troops consoled themselves after all those home fans' buttons urging Penn State to "Shell the Turtle," "Tear A Pin," and "Make Turtle Soup" had been answered. The lopsidedness of the game ultimately made it anasthetic, anticlimactic. But what passions it aroused beforehand!
There are not that many Really Big Games in eastern collegiate footabll, unless you happen to be one of those old Ivy Leaguers who believe that the Has-vahds vs. the Yales - regardless of their records - is the only contest of any season worth mixing a martini over.
But 8-0 Penn State, ranked No. 2 nationally, vs. 8-0 Maryland, rated No. 5, qualifies as a Really Big Game even in the college football big time. This was verified by the fact that ABC-TV was here to broadcast the proceedings nationally, with its first team of Keith Jackson and Ara Parseghian at the microphones.
Both the host Nittany Lions and the visiting Terps rightfully regarded this game as the biggest obstacle to an undefeated regular season. And they knew the winner would become the No. 1 candidate for an invitation to play the champion of the Big Eight Conference in the Orange Bowl on January 1, likely to decide the national championship.
And so Pennsylvania State University - built on a lovely 5,032-acre tract of farm and forest land in the Nittany Valley, nestled in the central Pennsylvania foothills of the Allegheny Mountains, 100 miles northwest of Harrisburg - was excited this fine autumn weekend.
There were 15 passengers - mostly men with broad shoulders, and broad expanses beneath their shoulders - stuffed into the 16-seat, twin-engine Otter that services Allegheny Airlines' commuter flight 769 from Washington to State College/University Park.
The plane was like an airborne cattle car, but here too the talk was football. The men in the back, wearing Astroturf-green blazers with "Orange Bowl Committee" patches on the breast pockets, had traveled this way before. Many times. They knew the intricacies of getting to such out-of-the-way football metropolises as College Station, Tex.
"You ever been to A & M in that little puddle jumper" one asked his neighbor, sounding like an old military man proud of the missions he had flown in the football hinterlands.
Nine scouts in all, from four bowls, flew to Penn State this weekend.
The men from Miami, with golden orange lapel pins, were Tom Wood and Billy Vessels, members of the selection committee for the Bowl most likely to have a match-up for the national title this year.
Seated in front of them was Henry Dartigalongue of Jacksonville. You could tell by the gold alligator pin on his designer tie, which reached only to within half a foot of his belt buckle, that he was a selector for the Gator Bowl. The Orange, Rose, Sugar and Cotton are the Avis, Hertz, National and Budget of bowl games. The Gator is usually No. 5, the Dollar-A-Day Rent-A-Car of college football's holiday season classics.
"These guys are going up to have a look at the winner of this game," Dartigalongue chuckled. "I'll be looking at the loser."
In jest, there is truth.
"Think Miami," exclaim banners around campus, in Penn State's blue and white colors.
None say, "Think Jacksonville."
On top of the baggage and cargo that arrived from Washington was a load of snow shovels.
"What are those"? Wood asked Vessels, a Heisman Trophy winner at Oklahoma two decades ago, studying the utensils that seemed as alien to him as Darth Vader's ray gun. "We don't see many of them in Miami."
The snowfences already are up along Fox Hollow Road, which leads from the airport, past tractor paths and herds of grazing dairy cattle, into the town of Statt College and the picturesque brick buildings that make up Penn State University.
But there was no hint of winter in the aid this weekend. True to the Accu-Weather Forecast, there were sunny skies and datime temperatures in the mid-60s, more like Indian Summer than the frigid autumn normally associated with Penn State football Saturdays.
The heavens, it seemed, were smiling on the Nittany Lions - spiritual descendants of the Penn State Class of 1906, which chose as the school's mascot the mountain lion said to have once roamed the local range known as "Seven Mountains." Mt. Nittany is the queen of the range - named, according to regional lore, for the valorous Indian princess Nittany for whom the Great Spirit formed the highest peak.
Penn State never has won the national football championship, though loyalists - and the alumni here an football-rabid - insist that Coach Joe Paterno's 1973 team was really No. 1. It went 12-9-9, outscored regular-season opponents 431-120, beat LSU in the Orange Bowl, and graduated eight pros who still are in the National Football League, including Heisman Trophy-winning running back John Cappelletti.
That team was voted No. 5 in the final polls, to the hurt disbelief of Pennsylvanians. Finishing a season No. 1 has become an obsession since.
Pep rallies are fairly rare occurrences at Penn State, which is much less single-minded about sports success than the notable "football factories" in other parts of the country, but 8,000 people jammed into Recreation Hall on Friday night. They sweated and screamed en masse, proclaiming over and over: "We're No. 1."
The arena was dark except for the spotlight focused on the stage, basking the varsity in an adoring glare and projecting the shadow of a dancing Nittany Lion against the bank of grandstands behind. The mascot seemed eerie in this semi-darkness, a 30-foot specter left over from Halloween.
As the band blared fight songs and cheerleaders rustled blue-and-white crepe paper shakers, speaker after speaker came to the microphone and was greeted by a defeaning ovation and appropriate chants:
For star quarterback Chuck Fusina - "Heis-man, Heis-man, Heis-man."
For linebacker and defensive captain Steve Suhey - "Dee-fense, dee-fense, dee-fense," and a chorus of "Sooo-eeee" worthy of the hog-callers of Arkansas.
For tackles Matt Millen and Bruce Clark, anchors of the intimidating defense - "Scrap Pack, Scrap Pack."
And for coach Paterno - a simple "Joe, Joe, Joe."
Paterno, in a light blue suit, jumped up on the speaker's platform and raised his arms like a candidate accepting a draft from a raucous convention. Bedlam.
"It's been 29 years. I've waited a long time to be where we are tonight," he said, beginning a speech that was to build to a pitch worthy of Knute Rockne. Paterno has been called "the best coach who has never had a national champion," a reputation he is determined to adjust.
"We are Penn State, we are Penn State," chanted the frenzied throng. "We are No. 1."
Outside, after the pep rally, students shuffled unhurriedly along sidewalks covered with fallen leaves. There were two-hour lines for dinner at The Tavern and The Corner Room, and favored watering spots like the Shadygaff Saloon and The Phyrst were packed.
There was no hysteria - a passerby noted that the 1977 book "Road to Number One, A Personal Chronicle of Penn State Football," was half price on the discount table at Horner's Bookstore - but the pleasant feel of a football weekend was everywhere, blending with the fragrant air and sounds of hard rock streaming from fraternity house windows.
The same friendly hospitable spirit pervaded the grassy fields around Beaver Stadium yesterday, as what would swell to a Penn State record crowd of $78,019 arrived. This is a bucolic setting, just across the road from herds of black and white Holsteins, barns and silos, signs directing visitors to the "Dairy Cattle Research Building," and "Corn Breeding Laboratory."
Tailgating is a revered tradition here. Bud Harman of Lock Haven, Pa., organized a group called P.S. Trips 17 years ago, to bring in fans from that community 40 miles to the northeast, and hasn't missed a home game since. His troops of 30 picnickers usually rides an elegant coach, but yesterday had to settle for a borrowed schoolbus to transport their moveable feast.
"I can remember the days when we played only Lehigh Buchnell, Lafayette, teams like that," said Harman, class of '34. "If we had a crowd of 1,500, that was great."
Those days are long gone, as the tens of thousands of cars gleaming in th sunlight around the stadium attested.
It seemed that just about everyone except the Amish farmer and his wife who were driving against the tide of incoming cars two hours before kickoff knew and cared that this was A Really Big Game.
UDC . . . 20
Rutgers-Livingston . . .0
Barrington Scott blocked a punt and teammate Kelly Putman recovered the ball in the end zone midway through the second quarter to give the University of the District of Columbia its first score en route to a 20-0 victory over Rutgers-Livingston N.J., yesterday at Cardozo High.
UDC quarterback Tony Evans, who relieved starter Ken Mallory in the second quarter, connected on nine of 17 passes for 138 yards and one touchdown. UDC is 6-3 and R-L 3-3-1.