I’m supposed to be crammed into Beaver Stadium’s outdated, undersized press box right now, as I write this.
Penn State was supposed to have begun its ritual bludgeoning of Kent State a few minutes ago.
The only good thing about this unprecedented college football season, come to think of it, is the truncated schedule has all but eliminated matchups like Penn State-Kent State.
The worst thing is the void where the ritual used to be.
Four hours ago, I was supposed to have met my car-pool buddy, David Jones, for our game-day haul up Rte. 322. Since it’s a glorious September Saturday, I would have channeled the late midstate radio legend Pete Wambach: “It’s a bee-u-tiful day in Pennsylvania,’’ because I can be corny.
We would have laughed a lot, Jones and I, as we aired the week’s grievances and outrages. The landmarks would have rolled by - the inevitable traffic clog where 283 and 83 merge near Harrisburg, a stretch seemingly under construction since the Carter Administration.
The billboard ad for a DUI lawyer that includes the image of a man who looks uncannily, amusingly like Frank Bodani of the York Daily Record.
The mini-Statue of Liberty on a mini-island in the Susquehanna. The “409,’’ stickers on Paterno-cult bumpers. The dense string of convenience stores and strip clubs on the other side of the river, a retail glut that ends at a drive-in where generations of Penn State fans have made the Red Rabbit a habit.
The workday of covering a Penn State football game includes a hundred familiar little moments that aren’t really football.
The giant press-box chocolate-chip cookies, of which I’ll eat 3-5 in the course of the long day, turning Saturday into a cheat day on whatever food regimen I’m half-following at the moment.
Hearing the Blue Band kick in, and looking up from my leisurely pre-game work to check if the drum major sticks the landing on his body flip. He almost always does, just as, elsewhere around the country, the Boomer Schooner will rumble on to the field in Oklahoma, and the I in Ohio will be ceremoniously dotted in Columbus, Badgers will Jump Around in Wisconsin and, in Texas, a Longhorn will beat a drum the size of a swimming pool.
Penn State’s alma mater includes the word “didst.’’ When they played it at games years ago, Penn State students, amused by their own ignorance, would sing, “We don’t know, the (bleeping) words, ….’’
Now the words are on the scoreboard. The football team stands arm-in-arm after games, win or lose, and sings them, before ringing the victory bell (that part is not win or lose) on their way off the field.
Then come the interviews and the writing and the feedback. Yes, that guy still thinks I’m a gutless fraud because I haven’t called for the firing of James Franklin.
And then the grades I assign the Lions’ offense, defense, special teams and coaching. They take me five minutes, and might be the part of the whole package fans react to most.
The press box gradually empties and quiets, actually goes nearly silent except for reaction to broadcasts of late games. As my Dad used to say every Christmas, “This big day’s almost over.’’
I confess a goofy love for the last part: leaving a giant, vacated stadium, utterly off deadline, the party over, overwhelmed trash cans everywhere you look, marveling at the sheer size of an enterprise devoted to an exquisite silliness.
Lots of people are mad at the Big Ten for preempting the season. They say they’re mad about the process, the messaging, the lack of communication and general clumsiness of “how it was handled,’’ but that’s nonsense.
They just want their ritual back.