Annual game helps Penn State market itself

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Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski Hollidaysburg’s Zach Simpson, a Penn State offensive lineman, signs autographs on Saturday.

UNIVERSITY PARK — The Blue-White Game is Penn State football’s best commercial.

The game itself isn’t usually much to watch, let alone evaluate, and Saturday was no exception as the Blue continued its recent domination and cruised to a 21-10 victory.

Unless you want to go back to the early 1980s when Jeff Hostetler, in a battle with Todd Blackledge and Frank Rocco, played for both teams and put on a show, the atmosphere typically outshines most of the individual and collective performances.

For openers, there is no admission price so it gives people who might not otherwise have a chance to experience Penn State football a glimpse inside Beaver Stadium.

Attendance was listed at 71,000, which is more than three-quarters of what the nation’s programs average when the games actually count and which, of course, was probably settled upon with the idea that it apparently needed to exceed 70,000.

“We had a great crowd and a great environment,” James Franklin said.

It’s always better when the weather is good, and Saturday’s was perfect, not too hot (except in the press box) or cold.

Halftime brought some nice moments with the 2017 seniors introduced, and Saquon Barkley receiving the Chicago Tribune’s Silver Football, presented to the nation’s top player.

In four more days, he’ll know which NFL team owes him a $20 million signing bonus.

Penn State has done some creative, fun variations at recent Blue-White halftimes with guest punt returners, such as former Nittany Lion and NFL nose guard Anthony “Spice” Adams, who settled under a punt and then chugged 80 yards for a score, collapsing in the end zone.

The staff also showed its sensitive side and commitment to community by staging a play in which Brooke Fisher, a “special” young fan from nearby Bellefonte took a handoff and, with the defenders playing along, raced 30 yards for a touchdown, never mind that she comically started her spike from about the 2.

Adding to the fun was Franklin appearing at his post-game press conference alongside actor/comic Keegan-Michael Key, a 1996 Penn State graduate and a virtual Franklin clone.

“The welcoming spirit of this university is the same as when I attended,” Key said.

Key has been part of the shtick for the last couple of years, and Franklin, jokingly, said Key subbed for him in a family photo that’s planned for this year’s Christmas card.

Also introduced were this year’s freshmen signees, a couple of which enrolled in January and played Saturday. Once upon a time, these players would have waited more than a year to be acknowledged publicly, but on this day, they were recognized with stud freshman linebacker Micah Parsons drawing a big ovation.

The day includes a focus on recruiting, and Franklin said 160 players were on unofficial visits with a handful, and their families, doing their official tours.

“Just being a spring game and the amount of people who come and support us is amazing,” running back Miles Sanders, the heir apparent to Barkley, if there can be such a thing, said. “It shows how big our fan base is.”

Quarterback, team leader and Heisman Trophy candidate Trace McSorley, returning to start his third and final season, said the Blue-White Game is treated as a reward.

“It’s big,” he said. “It’s a time for a lot of young guys to get their first experience to play in Beaver Stadium before a large crowd. It’s the culmination of spring and winter workouts. It’s a fun environment, the fans are into it, and it’s an awesome combination of the work that’s going on. It gives us a good base for the summer workouts.”

The game is designed for the Blue to succeed as all the returnees are loaded onto the Blue team while the White is made up of those without experience.

Saturday’s rosters showed 71 letters earned by players representing the Blue to the mere four letters won by the White squad.

So the final score, which included just the White’s second touchdown in the last five Blue-White games, should not have been surprising.

“Obviously we were vanilla on both sides of the ball,” Franklin said. “I’d still like to see our (number) two offense and defense make it more competitive.”

That, however, clearly takes a backseat on the priority list to showing the recruits and fans a good time.

And if they liked Saturday, Sanders said, just wait until Ohio State comes calling.

“I tell every recruit that comes, ‘Guys, you need to see what the whiteout is like,'” he said. “I think it’s the best atmosphere in college football.”

In the meantime, this was the perfect April appetizer.

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com.

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