“There’s two reasons I came here — the academics, and I knew I was going to have a great time,” said Ethan Hoda, a sophomore from Scranton, Pa., as he nibbled on chicken tenders late Saturday afternoon on a park bench along College Avenue. “Football is a big part of that. When it’s game day, you’re excited to be here whether you like football or not.”
Those shared experiences have generated such a deep loyalty — some of it disturbingly blind in the Sandusky scandal aftermath — that tens of thousands of alums return each year for football, even if it requires flights, lengthy drives, exorbitant prepaid accommodations and pricey tickets.
It’s why Sam Garland, from Reading, Pa., found himself on a nearly deserted College Avenue on Saturday morning with Steve Emery, from Fort Worth, Texas, and Vic Versino, from Detroit. They graduated nearly 40 years ago and for the last 25 have returned for a game — something to do, they joked, while laughing and drinking. They paid for rooms at a nearby Days Inn back in January, for $378 a night with a two-night minimum, which they negotiated down to $99 per night. They bought tickets through an online broker, who kept their money but gave them a 125 percent credit for their next purchase.
Still, they were not quite prepared for what they saw: so many familiar shops and restaurants that were closed or had changed hands, favorite watering holes operating at 25 percent capacity and with lines outside limited to 10 people, and very few students milling around campus on Friday.