Penn State faithful travel to Dublin

DUBLIN – Looking out over a sea of more than 10,000 Penn State fans, Nittany Lion and Steelers legend Jack Ham said it best.

“You guys take road trip to a whole new level,” Ham, now a PSU broadcaster, told the crowd at Friday’s pep rally in this city’s historic Temple Bar district. “This is not like going to Rutgers or somewhere else. I’ll tell you, you are by far the greatest fans.”

Some 15,000 Penn State faithful have made the trip overseas to watch today’s Croke Park Classic, further cementing the reputation as a fan base that will travel anywhere to watch the team play.

“Unbelievable,” Penn State Athletic Director Sandy Barbour said to the crowd. “The Penn State nation has descended upon Dublin. Everywhere we’ve been the last couple of days, we have seen Penn State everywhere.”

That hasn’t so much been the case with Central Florida fans, who are outnumbered 7 to 1 by PSU fans, according to ticket sales for the game.

“We’ve been here for three days, and I still haven’t seen a UCF

T-shirt,” Penn State President Eric Barron said at the pep rally.

Today’s game, which kicks off at 1:30 p.m. Ireland time and 8:30 a.m. EST, will be the first in a foreign country for Penn State. The game will be played at historic Croke Park Stadium in front of a projected 50,000 fans, including about 35,000 locals.

The number of PSU fans who made the trip overseas might seem like a surprise to some, but not to those familiar with how well Lion fans travel.

As broadcaster Steve Jones appropriately told the large gathering at the pep rally, “We expected this.”

“Wow! Look at you guys! Whoa!” always-energetic PSU Alumni Association President Roger Williams yelled to the crowd. “I can’t remember a better pep rally since the 2009 Rose Bowl pep rally. Nittany nation, you guys are awesome! You are the best fans in the world.”

About 20 Penn State football players took the stage at the pep rally, mostly younger players and reserves. James Franklin, who will coach his first game at PSU today, was not in attendance, because he was taking care of final game preparation back at the team hotel.

“We’ve had an unbelievable trip, and from what I can gather it looks like you guys have, too,” linebacker Ben Kline told the crowd. “We’re going to finish it (today) in Croke Park so we can all fly home happy.”

Junior receiver Matt Zanellato made some poignant comments to the crowd about how the football program has been able to succeed in many ways despite heavy sanctions issued by the NCAA two years ago.

One of those sanctions is a four-year bowl ban, and because of that, this Ireland trip was planned as a reward for the players.

“We didn’t come to Penn State for bowl games,” Zanellato said. “We came here to get an unbelievable education and to play in front of the best fans in the country. We just want to thank all of you guys for coming out, traveling across the world to support us. It means so much to all of us.

“Just take a look around. This is Penn State. This is who we are.”