Saturday tailgate: Penn State Nittany Lions

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State's pregame rituals start even before Saturday, when some students leave their dorms and head to Beaver Stadium's Gate A with tents in tow.

They'll camp out there in tent-city "Nittanyville" -- some all week -- before heading to the stands the second stadium workers slide up the metal gate. Players will visit, the alma mater will be sung and chants will be echoed so you might still hear a faint "We Are!" scream near the East dorms.

It's a place where students order Domino's and Canyon Pizza by placing "Nittanyville" in the address field. It's a place where "trash-can football" is the game of choice. And it's a place that serves as a reminder this fan base's passion hasn't really waned, even without the man in the Coke-bottled frames.

The opponent this week is Eastern Michigan, a three- or four-touchdown underdog, but it's the home opener. It's Penn State football. And the school's rituals and love of its 65-or-so scholarship players continues.

Blue buses will pull up to a throng of waiting, screaming fans around 9:30 a.m. Some players will bob their head to music played through their headphones; others will take in the crowd and twirl their heads to see the full extent of the sea of blue and white.

From there, it's tailgating and chatting until either the drinks have run out or the kickoff draws near. Strangers beckon strangers to share some pulled pork or pierogies, discussions will be ongoing about Christian Hackenberg's future, and fans will still wonder aloud how far this team could go if it weren't for Mark Emmert or these sanctions.

It's a day that will see the small town of State College (pop: 42,499) double or triple, possibly just with that number in the parking lots alone. On Saturdays, some tailgater will undoubtedly tell another that the town that Joe helped build becomes the third-most populous city in Pennsylvania, behind only Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. It transforms from a small town into the population of a sprawling metropolis that still feels like a small town.

The fuzzy Nittany Lion mascot will do pushups after every score, each one signifying a point, and students will thrust their skinnier counterparts into the air as the Nittany Lion pumps away. They'll bounce to Zombie Nation, belt out loud any familiar refrain and scream so loud their voices sometimes don't return until Sunday afternoons.

After the game, win or lose, it's either stand in line for a scoop or two at The Creamery -- but don't mix flavors; only sitting presidents get away with that -- or head to the two-street downtown to pick up a T-shirt, an iced tea or some pizza.

Sometimes, the downtown atmosphere feels more like a parade or St. Patrick's Day. Eventually, people will either pack up or head back to their hotels while cursing the local two-night minimum stays.

Win or lose, though, they'll be back again next week. And the week after that. And the season after that.

Welcome to Penn State gameday.