STATE COLLEGE - In the midst of the bustle during his first spring game as Penn State's head coach, in between snaps and words of advice to his quarterbacks and organizing plays and even leading a "We Are... Penn State" chant, James Franklin would like you to believe he had time to count heads in the stands, too.
Penn State announced that a little more than 72,000 fans flooded Beaver Stadium on a sun-splashed Saturday in April that made even the hellish winter that passed seem like a distant chapter. But Franklin insisted there were more. He counted, he said with a smile. And on several occasions during his postgame press conference following the Blue team's 37-0 dismantling of the White squad in the annual spring-ending scrimmage, he mentioned the 82,000 strong that arrived to support a new era of Penn State football.
"I had never been to a game here before," Franklin said. "Running out into that stadium was an unbelievably emotional experience for me."
Days like this are big for fans, because they've been without football in Happy Valley for five months, and they'd frankly rather not be without it for five minutes. So even if it means nothing, even if what they're watching is a glorified practice, they're all in.
Days like this are big for players, too. Sure, Christian Hackenberg isn't taking the field trying to secure a role that he most likely has cemented. But Cole Chiappialle is, and he got the chance to impress his coaches with 63 rushing yards and two touchdowns. There aren't many chances, in an arena like this, to impress coaches like that.
Days like this aren't usually as important for coaches as this one was, though. After all, this might be the first time in six decades - and maybe even longer - where an entirely new staff led a team onto the field at Penn State for the first time. Where an entirely different philosophy on both sides of the ball promise to be implemented moving forward.
"I can just imagine how excited they were," receiver and former Wyoming Valley West star Eugene Lewis said. "Having this new offense, we wanted to see how it would all work. This was a whole new thing for everybody, and I think it turned out well."
Certainly, nobody can be sure how much of what the offense and the defense showed Saturday was new, and it's not like the coaches would admit if it is all going to stick anyway. But for sure, this team looked plenty different than the one Bill O'Brien showed last season, and a mile different than the one Joe Paterno guided to prominence in the 1970s and 80s.
For starters, the Wildcat played a huge role in the game. Not surprisingly, it was a big part of the Vanderbilt offense the last three years.
Ever think you'd see a flea-flicker in a spring game? How about a reverse to a true freshman speedster?
Spring games are usually as basic as a bowl of Corn Flakes. But for as uneven as this game was, it wasn't because the play-calling was vanilla.
"The playbook was obviously limited," Franklin said. "But I don't know if it was limited because it was our philosophy. I'm not one of those paranoid college football coaches. (Opponents) have three years of really good film on us they can go to. It's not like we're hiding anything."
If that's the spring game with a limited playbook, what do these guys have planned going forward?