Sept. 26, 2003

After attending dozens of events at Veterans Stadium over the years, I witnessed the final night game (and the third-to-last overall game) that the Philadelphia Phillies would ever play there.

The Phils had already been eliminated from the National League wild-card race after a late-season collapse, and certainly performed as though they had nothing to play for, losing 6–0 to the Atlanta Braves. But this night wasn’t really about the game itself — it had more to do with nostalgia for a stadium that will disappear in a few months to make room for the new Citizens Bank Park.

Following the game, my friends and I joined a large crowd of fans on the field to watch the final fireworks show. I was instantly reminded of several impressive Fourth of July displays that I saw at the Vet when I was a kid, but this show topped them all. The bright flashes of color and loud explosions over the lighted Liberty Bell in center field were simply the most amazing I’ve ever seen.

So, despite the Phillies’ loss, the post-game fireworks show served as a thrilling finale for my last evening at the Vet. I’ll be sad to see it go.

[ No. 64 ]

Sept. 11–15, 2003

At this point, I think it’s safe to say that I can be declared legally insane.

Three fellow Penn Staters — Larry, Tony, and John — and I drove all the way to Lincoln, the state capital of Nebraska, to attend the Nittany Lions’ road game against the Cornhuskers.

Yes, we drove. No, I’m not kidding.

The ride. For our journey to the Midwest, we rented a silver Pontiac Montana minivan, which we adorned with PSU logo magnets, naturally. I’ll admit that a minivan isn’t the coolest set of wheels, but it’s very practical for a long road trip. Our trusty Montana provided ample room for us and all of our stuff, offered a convenient back row for a few hours of uninterrupted sleep, and handled more like a car than a bulky SUV.

The route. Since I live near Philadelphia and the rest of the group resides near Washington, my trip began with a 2½-hour drive to Arlington, Va., on Thursday morning to meet up with the guys. We picked up the minivan at Union Station, bought some food at the supermarket, and left shortly before 4 p.m.

Our travels took us from the Capital Beltway in Virginia into Maryland (I-270 to I-68), West Virginia (I-68 to I-79), up into western Pennsylvania (I-79 to I-70), back into West Virginia (I-70), then through Ohio (still on I-70), Indiana (I-70 to I-74), Illinois (I-74 to I-80), Iowa (I-80 throughout), and finally Nebraska (still on I-80).

For the record, the trek from Arlington to Lincoln crossed nine states, covered a grand total of 1,294 miles, and lasted nearly 23 hours, including a late dinner at Cracker Barrel and several breaks overnight.

The town. The four of us stayed at the Lincoln Settle Inn, a decent and reasonably priced hotel right off the interstate and located about 10 minutes from the downtown area. For a city that’s home to over 200,000 residents, Lincoln felt like a small town, with its easy-to-navigate grid of streets and old brick buildings that have been converted into thriving restaurants and bars.

Speaking of which, there’s plenty of good eatin’ in Lincoln. We enjoyed some of the best baby back ribs on earth at Fireworks on Friday night as well as some huge appetizers at Buzzard Billy’s on Saturday afternoon. Before entering the stadium for the game, we also sampled a local delicacy called a Runza — a tasty pocket of dough stuffed with ground beef and onions. (Calories don’t count on vacation, right?)

The fans. Penn State and Nebraska rarely play head-to-head, but their fans have plenty of reasons to dislike each other. A questionable call favored the Lions in a critical 1982 game against the Huskers, and Nebraska was unanimously awarded the 1994 national title despite Penn State’s perfect 12–0 season that year.

Also, since no professional sports teams are based in Nebraska, college football is literally the only game in town, so we expected to receive our share of abuse while treading in enemy territory. But with only a few exceptions, the Husker faithful were extremely nice to us — almost too nice, actually.

My friends and I, brave souls that we are, dared to walk around Lincoln on game day wearing navy blue in a blinding sea of Husker scarlet, but several passersby happily greeted us and said, “Welcome to Lincoln,” or “Good luck in tonight’s game!” — with absolutely no sarcasm whatsoever. (A few locals mentioned that, during last year’s game in State College, they’d had a few “incidents” with some PSU fans, for whom we had to humbly apologize.)

The game. We arrived at Memorial Stadium well in advance of the 7 p.m. kickoff, and joined the boisterous crowd of 78,008 football fans for the main event.

After Penn State’s shaky win over Temple and dismal loss to Boston College thus far, I only hoped that the Lions would be competitive in their prime-time, nationally televised game against 18th-ranked Nebraska. In a low-scoring, defensive battle, Nebraska struggled in the red zone on several occasions and had to settle for four field goals, but Penn State failed to capitalize on offense and suffered a difficult 18–10 defeat.

The return. The long ride home, which began early on Sunday morning, seemed much longer, of course. But we actually made the eastbound trip in under 21 hours (including a stop at Perkins for some much-needed non–fast food) and arrived back in Arlington at around 5 a.m. on Monday, just before dawn.

Fotunately, I managed to catch a few hours of sleep during the ride on Sunday night, so I was wide awake for the solo drive back to West Chester before rush hour. But I slept for several hours that afternoon to catch up on some rest before returning to work the following day.

The totals. Overall, my journey from West Chester to Arlington to Lincoln to Arlington to West Chester covered 2,872 miles and took over 48 hours to complete.

Make sure to check out the photos from the trip!

[ No. 63 ]

Sept. 9, 2003

Back in January, after weeks of incessant media hype, the Philadelphia Eagles were favored to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the conference title in the last Eagles game at Veterans Stadium.

The result: Buccaneers 27, Eagles 10.

Last night, after months of incessant media hype, the Philadelphia Eagles were again favored to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, this time on Monday Night Football in the first regular-season Eagles game at the new Lincoln Financial Field.

The result: Buccaneers 17, Eagles 0.

As I’ve said before, I’ve never claimed to be an avid Eagles fan, but I certainly didn’t expect to use the phrase “stinkin’ at the Lincoln” after only one game.

[ No. 62 ]