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October 17, 2013

Column: Cancer can't diminish longtime PSU fan's spirit

One of Penn State football's most loyal fans is fighting for his life.

Until this year's season opener against Syracuse at MetLife Stadium, Terry Todd had attended 282 consecutive Nittany Lion games - home, away and on neutral grounds.

That may be a record for someone who is simply a fan with no ties to anyone in the Penn State athletic family.

But Terry's game streak is over. He is battling lung cancer, and traveling to away games this season is not possible for Terry and his wife, Carolyn. In fact, just how many home games Terry will see in person this season is questionable.

Terry could not be in Beaver Stadium for the first three home games because of unexpected surgical treatments and complications, but he hopes to get there sometime this season. When he does for the first time, it will mark the 428th Penn State game Terry has seen in person since his initial one against Navy in the 1970 season.

There may be some longtime season-ticket holders who can top that number. But that's not bad for a guy who grew up as an Ohio State fan in East Liverpool, Ohio, attended college at Case Reserve in Cleveland, and then became a Missouri fan while working in St. Louis. In fact, he admits there was a point in his life when he could not stand the Penn State football team. That was on New Year's night of 1970 when he watched one of Penn State's greatest defensive teams of all time beat his Missouri Tigers in the Orange Bowl, 10-3.

"I was extremely disappointed," Terry told me. "Missouri had a great offense, and I didn't think there was any way that Penn State could beat that team."

Never did Terry imagine on that night that he would one day be such a dedicated fan of the Nittany Lions. That all changed when he was transferred later in the year to the corporate headquarters of the company that employed him as a product manager. The city was Allentown, Pa.

"Everybody in town seemed to be Penn State fans," he said. "They were driving to games, not just to Penn State but to Syracuse and other schools in the East to watch Penn State play. I went up to Penn State for the Navy game and then to the game at Maryland later in the year."

As the years passed, he attended more and more games, and in 1987 he had a new wife to attend them along with him. Carolyn was a marketing executive for an Allentown company. Until she met Terry, she admits she was a football dummy.

When Carolyn suggested they be married on Oct. 10, 1987, Terry said, "When's the open date," meaning the Saturday during the season when Penn State did not play. "We missed two games for the wedding and the honeymoon," Carolyn recalled. "That was a true sacrifice for Terry!"

Soon, Carolyn was enjoying the tailgating home and away, and she was hooked.

"I think what really did it was the hospitality of the Alabama fans in 1988 and 1990," Carolyn said. "We lost in '88 and won in '90, but the fans treated us the same. We were all just having fun. Each college atmosphere is different. We meet friends or family in places like Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, Omaha and Iowa City. When we lose, we enjoy everything but the game and the air travel."

In 2010 and 2011, Carolyn attended the special Penn State football summer camp for women just to learn more about the sport. Now, she is as big a fan as Terry. For several years, Carolyn has been writing a community blog for the Centre Daily Times entitled "A View From the Stands," and she has a very loyal following. Some of her readers have become friends and have been very supportive of her and Terry since his lung cancer was discovered this summer.

Terry's consecutive game streak didn't start until the third game of the 1990 season when Penn State defeated Rutgers at Beaver Stadium, 28-0, on Sept. 22. Carolyn has been with him much of the way, missing only four games for one reason or another.

"My family still hasn't forgiven Terry for going to Ann Arbor in 1994 rather than to my nephew's wedding," Carolyn recalled in one of her blogs for the CDT. "I went to the wedding.

"In the fall of 1990, I needed major surgery with a 10-day recovery period. The surgeon cooperated with the timing, and we didn't miss a game due to the surgery.

"The last game I missed was September 2001, a game in Iowa City. Terry went, but I stayed home due to a sick animal."
Carolyn also tells of the day Terry was asked to attend a business conference on a Penn State football weekend and said he couldn't because "it's a religious matter."

They admit that attending away games was easier before Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993. Except for occasional regular-season games outside the East and the annual bowl game trips, they could drive from their home in Easton. Flying to Cedar Rapids and Champaign or even to Chicago and Minneapolis required more logistics and extensive travel arrangements.

When they decided to move to State College in 1997, the away-game travel didn't change, but driving to Beaver Stadium from their new home in the Toftrees housing development was a snap compared to their trips from Easton.

"We would leave Easton between 5 and 6 a.m. to drive the 185 miles to Beaver Stadium," Carolyn recalled. "After the game, we drove to the Pine Barn Inn in Danville to get halfway home. Late games were difficult because we missed a great dinner. Often the inn kept the restaurant open just for us. Fall construction on Route 80 is now a distant memory.

"After Terry and I retired, we decided there were four places we might like to live. We had family in Tucson and Florida and we liked to vacation in North Carolina and Maine. We visited all four places. In the end, Terry wanted to move to State College."

Terry immediately joined the State College Quarterback Club. Carolyn soon found herself teaching marketing at Penn State.
After you meet them, you know that opposites attract. Carolyn is a bit of an extrovert, which one expects from a college professor. She is amiable and makes friends easily. Terry is crusty and reticent, and with his beard and trademark hat, he looks like he might have just come out of the Australian bush country.

"I usually caution the students that Terry's a 'toasted marshmallow,'" Carolyn said. "He's crusty on the outside, soft in the middle. That's the term I first heard from his work colleagues in Allentown, and it has stuck with me ever since. They knew him so well."

Until this season, Terry and Carolyn sat in the upper WBU section of Beaver Stadium, at about the 10-yard line. They prefer to sit high because Terry likes to see the plays developing. Because of his cancer, Terry needs a wheelchair and oxygen tanks, and Penn State temporarily moved their seating to the ADA area behind the visiting team's bench between the 40- and 45-yard lines.

Naturally, the Todds were shocked when Terry was diagnosed on July 26 with a form of lung cancer that is treatable but not curable. So far, the chemo treatments have worked, but there have been some problems along the way that have taken a toll on both of them, including the need for more than a week of hospitalization over the Labor Day weekend.

So, for the first time ever, they watched a Penn State game on a hospital television set, but Terry almost missed the kickoff because of an MRI test.

"I held my breath as kickoff was about to happen and Terry wasn't back yet," Carolyn wrote in her online blog. "But he did arrive with 30 seconds to spare! And we had a decent HDTV to watch the game."

Carolyn had recently joined a private Facebook group of Penn State fans, the Penn State Football Nation, and she had been communicating with the group over the Internet since the late morning. Around noon, about 20 members who were tailgating together outside MetLife Stadium sent her a photo. Todd Speck, who started the Facebook group, stood in the middle of the group and held a large sign that included a photo of Carolyn and Terry.

Carolyn admits the sign brought tears to her eyes.

"What's remarkable," she wrote, "is that I have not physically met a single person in this picture. It's simply through this one Facebook discussion group that I've come to know them. And that says a lot about what it means to be a part of this phenomenon called the Penn State football family."

The text on the sign read: "Carolyn and Terry Todd; The Streak Continues; You Are Here in Our Hearts; Get Well Soon Terry."

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