STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Fans tossed footballs, the marching band played the fight song and a familiar refrain echoed through the Beaver Stadium crowd.
"We Are ... Penn State!"
At least 15,000 people attended a rally at the stadium Friday night in a vocal show of support for the Nittany Lions on the eve of the team's historic season opener against Ohio.
"I can't tell you how much we need to hear you all tomorrow," rookie coach Bill O'Brien said as his team sat behind him on metal bleachers atop the field. "We need to hear you loud and proud to cheer these guys on."
The Nittany Lions were the stars of a 45-minute show that built up to the team's entrance about two-thirds of the way into the event. They were barely there for 10 minutes, watching the debut of the 2012 season video to get the crowd pumped for kickoff before listening to O'Brien's brief talk.
It was an emotional outlet for students and fans who have united behind the players following strict NCAA sanctions including a four-year bowl ban.
"This is a very, very special group of players, led by a very special senior class that has made a huge commitment," O'Brien said. "Our guys have worked extremely hard ... They're tired of hitting each other and they can't wait to get going. Thank you very much and we'll see you tomorrow."
Then as fans roared, the team left back through the tunnel to get a good night's sleep for Saturday's game.
If anything, Friday night was just as much a pep rally for a State College community, too, following a trying 10 months. The region has been cast in a negative light nationally since the arrest of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky last November on child sex abuse charges.
The rally marked a formal debut of the area's "Together We Are One" campaign organized by community leaders. Signs with the slogan started appearing on major area streets last week.