What is the scoop behind the toast Zamboni?

Dear Benny:
I love the special toast Zamboni that cruises across the football field picking up the bread that is tossed during home games. Can you tell me more about the groovy crumb gatherer? Is it an actual Zamboni? Have there ever been celebrity drivers? What happens to all those bread crumbs?
--Craving Carbs

Dear Craving:
You certainly have a muffin-pan full of questions about one of Penn’s most original gridiron traditions.

The so-called toast Zamboni is a crowd-pleaser, for sure. As part of a treasured Penn custom, the crumb-catcher rolls onto Franklin Field to collect literally thousands of pieces of bread that fans toss onto the grass between the third and fourth quarters.

Nobody seems to know precisely how the tradition of throwing toast onto the field began, but when fans sing the words “Here’s a toast to dear old Penn,” white, wheat and multigrain rain down. The bread shower has become such a strong part of Penn culture that University athletic officials even provide fans with ready-to-toss toast, in an attempt to control what gets pitched onto the turf.

Technically, the machine that cleans up the mess is not a real Zamboni, which works only on ice. According to Dave Bryan, director of Athletic Facilities and Operations, the crumb collector is a sweeper machine used to clean athletic tracks. He says it takes about 10 to 15 minutes to clear the toast from the field, and the sweeper driver must pay special attention to avoid running over television wires.

Bryan says a grounds keeper drives the storied sweeper, and as far as he knows, nobody has ever requested to be a “celebrity” driver of the bread collector. The mounds of crumbs from each game are unceremoniously thrown away with the rest of the day’s trash. And, Bryan says, the clean up continues when the crowds leave, with raking, more sweeping and liberal use of leaf/toast blowers.

Got a question for Benny? Send it via e-mail to current@pobox.upenn.edu or via regular mail to the Current, 200 Sansom Place East, 3600 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6106.

Originally published on November 12, 2009