It's funny what you learn. While doing exhaustive research about how Penn State's Beaver Stadium has become the toughest place to play in college football for an opposing team, I discovered the song is called "Kernkraft 400." It's not "Zombie Nation." The band is Zombie Nation.
- Game: Penn State vs. Ohio State
- TV: WTAE
- When: Saturday, 8 p.m.
- Where: Beaver Stadium
That's important as we move forward this morning.
"They used to play it more than they do now," Penn State linebacker Sean Lee said the other day. "I guess they had to cut it back because the fans jumped up and down so hard that it was starting to cause structural damage to the stadium."
That's not entirely true.
There were structural concerns after Penn State played host to Ohio State two years ago in one of the all-time great sports environments. But after university officials tightened a few bolts and fixed some windows that had been knocked off track by the raucous crowd, the all-clear was given. "Kernkraft 400" still is played frequently during games, Penn State's Guido D'Elia said. But it's saved for special moments.
"A lot of places use it as a build-up to get the fans going. We use it as a payoff for our fans after the team makes a big play," D'Elia said.
The guess here is Zombie Nation will rattle the old stadium again Saturday night when Penn State plays No. 1 Ohio State.
Don't be surprised if the Nittany Lions pull the upset.
The home-field advantage at Beaver Stadium is that powerful.
"Structure-wise, I believe it's the biggest in football. That, by itself, is daunting," Lee said. "But then, there's the noise. It just gives you chills."
It wasn't always that way at Penn State. The Nittany Lions long have attracted huge crowds, ranking in the top four in attendance in each of the past 16 years. That, more than anything, must make 'em jealous at Pitt where a crowd of 35,000 at Heinz Field is considered a bonanza.
"But the Penn State crowds were like San Francisco 49ers' crowds," former Nittany Lions All-American and long-time broadcaster Jack Ham said. "The fans would show up and sip their Chardonnay."
"An opera crowd," D'Elia called it.
D'Elia, who works for the Strip District-based Mind Over Media marketing production company, moved to Happy Valley in '04 as Penn State's director of communications and branding for football, a fancy title for a guy whose primary responsibility is to make the football games an unforgettable event.
"They had a lot going on with the band and the cheerleaders and the video board, but it wasn't very coordinated," D'Elia said. "I was dumb enough to say that everything was wrong. They said, 'OK, big mouth, pull it all together.' "
So D'Elia did.
The man could write a book about choreography. But the best thing he did, by far, was get the Penn State students involved. He came up with the idea to have them all dress alike, trying blue first, which didn't show up well, then hitting a home run with white. What a picture it made at that Ohio State game in '05, nothing but white halfway around the mammoth stadium.
"The students became more of a mob that day," D'Elia said.
Their enthusiasm was contagious with Penn State's older crowd. It helped, in a perverse way, that the football program hit a downturn early in this decade for the first time during the Joe Paterno era. "I think our fans started to appreciate the good times more," D'Elia said. "They also began to see the impact they had on the outcome of the games."
The topper was that '05 game against Ohio State.
Beaver Stadium really did shake that wonderful night.
"The loudest, most energized crowd I've ever seen," Penn State linebacker Dan Connor said.
"I remember [linebacker] Paul Posluszny standing next to me on the sideline and asking me a question, and I had to read his lips," defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said.
A crowd of 109,839 watched Penn State knock off Ohio State, 17-10. That was the most recent time the Buckeyes were beaten in a regular-season game. They have won 26 regular-season games in a row.
That streak will be very much in jeopardy Saturday night.
Penn State -- which has won 19 of its past 20 home games, the loss coming against Michigan last season -- has a chance to break its attendance record of 110,753 set against Nebraska in '02. It came close earlier this season when 110,078 saw the Nittany Lions beat Notre Dame, 31-10, on a night when just about everybody -- not just the students -- showed up in white. D'Elia worked on that "White House" promotion for six months, going so far as to have the season tickets for that game printed on white stock to serve as a reminder to fans.
Not coincidentally, Notre Dame had five false-start and two delay-of-game penalties that night.
There just can't be a tougher place to play.
"I saw a girl in a T-shirt at one of the games that said, 'We determine the snap count!' I loved that," Ham said, fairly giggling.
They'll be out again in full force Saturday night.
The students, who, yes, will be dressed in white.
The older fans, who won't be confused even for one second that they're at an opera.
And, of course, Zombie Nation.
It just wouldn't be a Penn State game without "Kernkraft 400."
Ron Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .