UNIVERSITY PARK - If you were like me on Saturday - or many others who braved the cold and snow to take in Penn State's homecoming drubbing of Minnesota in person - you had a brand new experience in State College that had nothing at all to do with the game itself.
Because an early snowstorm blanketed Happy Valley in the 48 hours leading up to kickoff, Penn State officials decided to close the grass parking lots near the stadium - all 20,000 or so spaces - forcing everyone to park at different "satellite lots" and catch the free shuttle buses to the game.
On any other Nittany Lions' home Saturday, the parking areas are divided almost perfectly by class. Those who are lucky enough to have a reserved parking space or a pass for one of the premeire lots probably didn't get them by accident - meaning they have the money to help support the university. Those who have general parking earn their good spots by arriving really early, but rarely do the two groups ever interact unless they happen to be seated near each other inside the stadium..
But on this one particular day, cars headed to State College were not judged by the color of its parking permit. Instead, pink passes mixed with yellow ones. Purple passes mingled with green ones. Even those without the benefit of a parking permit were right there next to those who usually occupy some of the very best spaces at Beaver Stadium.
Yes, everyone - except for those very lucky few who actually get to park on pavement - was there on Saturday riding the exact same school bus from the exact same shopping centers and high school parking lots to the same bus stop near the stadium.
But it wasn't weird or uncomfortable. Instead, it seemed to be a bonding experience for most of the masses. There was almost a feeling of camraderie that we were all in this together.
On my bus ride in, I met a pair of Lock Haven University students - my alma mater - and one of them said he was from a town called Street, in Maryland That caused a gentleman a couple of rows ahead of me to say to him "You're from Street? I have family from Street."
Small world, right?
Once we got to the eerily quite stadium area - it was weird seeing all the empty grass lots that are usually jam packed - the game seemed like any other. The crowd was into it depsite the contest earning the infamous designation of coldest homecoming game in the Joe Paterno era (37 degrees at kickoff). Penn State played what was easily its best game of the year so far and smacked around the Golden Gophers in a 20-0 shutout.
Most left in a good mood as a result, which may have been the best thing that could have happened to those doing the shuttling. Instead of sitting impatiently in traffic after the game, we all stood in line in the rain, patiently waiting for the buses to pick us up.
In the meantime, people were swapping stories about snow games past (my only experience was the Michigan State game last year) and about the weirdest things they've ever seen at a Nittany Lion football game. And when the bus finally picked us up, almost fittingly, the driver didn't know where she was supposed to go since she was an out-of-towner and had her route assignment changed on her last minute. I guess it was just par for the course on this day.
But instead of getting angry, some good Samaritans gave her directions after playing a game of "destination bingo" where everyone just shouted out what stop they needed. We all eventually got where we were going and made it home.
It was indeed a great experiment. No one quite knew what to expect before getting there on Saturday and no one knew how it would work once the game had ended and everyone was trying to get home. But it all somehow came together. And we all left with homecoming memories that we'll never forget.
At least until it decides to snow during a home football weekend again.
Brian Cox is a Sentinel sports reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.