The Art of the Upset: How Penn State Beat Ohio State in Happy Valley

Super Fan

Were you one of the 107,000 fans at the whopper of an upset when the unranked Penn State Nittany Lions beat the undefeated, No. 2 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes at Penn State’s Beaver Stadium that wet and frigid night October 22?

If not, perhaps you watched it on ABC and saw a stunner, one of the  biggest upsets in college ball in recent years: Penn State, heading into the game as 18-point underdogs, took the Buckeyes to town with a 24-21 win. As a result, OSU fell to No. 6 in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll while the Lions rose to a rank of 24, the first time it landed in the Top 25 since it received unprecedented sanctions in 2012 as a result of the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal of late 2011. (The Lions – as of October 30 and their win over Purdue – have since risen to a rank of 20 on the AP Top 25 Poll.)


Fan Engagement Definitely, NO DOUBT ABOUT IT Helped Win that Game

Penn State is well-known for its incredible fan loyalty. Even that aforementioned Sandusky scandal couldn’t turn most fans away, as evidenced by the fact that attendance has actually increased since then. Most fans focused on the fact that college football is played by young men of incredible athletic talent and that none of them were at all involved in any cover-up. Controversy still surrounds former beloved Coach Joe Paterno (a statue of him was removed from the stadium and the student-based stadium campout that takes place in a stadium parking lot days and nights before each home game was soon renamed Nittanyville instead of Paternoville), but most fans focus on the great traditions he and his “no names, all game” athletes in blue and white created over the years.

But the fantastic Buckeyes were no match for fan engagement and the entire stadium experience that night as fans filled seats for its annual white out game against a team PSU fans and team members look to as their utmost rival. The enemy was in fans’ house that night and 18-point underdogs notwithstanding, they weren’t planning on “being good hosts.”

This is what it was like at the game that night:

  • A sea of white simply filled the stadium.
  • Fans stood pretty much the entire length of the game (with the exception of the 2nd quarter, when OSU took a solid lead).
  • Yes, hundreds of fans left at half-time, but even though it looked probable that the Lions would lose, a hundred thousand-plus fans stayed. Because, white out!
  • White out or no white out, fans yell with abandon whenever any opposing team has the ball during a PSU home game. With 100,000 or more people yelling, quarterbacks and their team members can’t hear each other. As example, at the PSU upset, OSU’s quarterback, J.T. Barrett, often had to move directly to members of his offensive line and yell in their ears with cues in the seconds before a snap.
  • White outs usually take place just once a year, but PSU Coach James Franklin asked for a 2nd white out for the PSU vs. Iowa game Nov. 5, tweeting: “TOGETHER, we are tough to beat!”


When a Big 10 Coach Believes Fan Engagement Helped His Team Beat a Tough Opponent, Listen

Franklin himself sincerely believes the incredible PSU fan loyalty has gone a long way to helping his team work its way back from the scandal as it appears to be turning a corner back  to greatness.

“That’s what made Penn State special for so long,” Franklin said. “It was an entire community, an entire campus, an entire alumni base all pulling together to have one of the more special communities in all of college football.

Fantelope Would Have Been a Great Addition

Penn State helps fans stay engaged in many ways. Just a handful:

  • Fans are encouraged to tweet photos with different PSU related hashtags (#WeArePennState, for example) and broadcasts them on the jumbotrons during breaks in on-field action.
  • It created a Nittany Lion Fan Council, to help engage fans throughout its 31-sport program.
  • Football isn’t the only sport to have all the white out fun: many of PSU other sports teams enjoy fan white out days.
  • Rather than discouraging or banning the student tent city (now Nittanyville) that springs up for days before home games, PSU’s administration embraced it and, even after the Sandusky scandal, it’s still going strong. (The campout even has a website.)

Had Penn State and OSU joined Fantelope, Penn State’s and Ohio State’s fans could have been tweeting back and forth with each other. PSU fans could have tweeted photos, posted to Facebook, checked in at the game, brag about the size of their tailgate (and the number of wings and nachos eaten), celebrate the phenomenal win, and continue to talk about it with like-minded fans for days, weeks and months to come.

Whether you’re a college AD, a fierce fan of your pro team, someone who loves someone who’s a raving fan, or if you just love speaking with like-minded people about your favorite teams and players, contact Fantelope at 734-720-9522 or e-mail us at info@fantelope.com. You also can download our app now and start earning points for something you already do gladly: support your team!

photo credit: Hillel Steinberg

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