Once More, With Feeling
Over the course of 28 home football Saturdays, Penn State football has become more familiar to me than almost anything else since I set foot on this campus in August 2008.
Friends, dorm rooms and apartments, classes, they’ve all come and gone. But I could always count on a football Saturday in Happy Valley for consistency. The smell of tailgates, the sound of 108,000 rattling an opposing quarterback’s helmet, and the sight of blue and white everywhere you turn have become as routine to me as problems with ANGEL and updating my Twitter.
In the midst of this truly horrible scandal, one that has shaken Penn State University to its core, the familiarity of a carefree Saturday in Beaver Stadium seems as foreign as the occupation of local and national media all over our beautiful campus. Our minds, which would normally be focused on tomorrow’s clash with Nebraska and continuing a Big Ten title run, have shifted towards the victims of truly heinous crimes and towards an uncertainty about the very institution that we’ve come to love and trust so much.
This week, I’ve been asked by at least a dozen different media outlets what Saturday’s game will be like for Penn State students, and I struggle to find the words to describe the volatile mix of emotions I’m dealing with. On the one hand, tomorrow’s game should be a celebration for a senior class that has seen four years of incredible moments, from whiting out the Illini to The Safety to The Fumble to a Big Ten Championship in the snow to a comeback win in the Orlando mud to 400 to 409. Consider, our four football seasons at Penn State have (so far) included:
- An overall record of 37-11, a Big Ten record of 17-7, and a home record of 23-5.
- A Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl appearance
- Two milestone victories for Joe Paterno, wins Number 400 and Number 409
- A #3 national ranking in 2008, and a victory at Ohio State for the first time in three decades
- Penn State’s new all-time leaders in receptions (Deon Butler) and rushing yards (Evan Royster)
Not a bad four years to be in Happy Valley, huh?
Yet, on the other hand, a cold reality sets in that Penn State, especially Penn State football, will never quite be the same. Rome has burned all around us, yet tomorrow we will still fill the Coliseum in hopes that we will regain the sense of love and familiarity we’ve felt for Dear Old State since we opened that letter welcoming us to life as a Penn Stater. We’ve lost the innocence that we’ve taken for granted these past few years here, in our “bubble”, protected from reality. Sure, we sang along to “May no act of ours bring shame”, but did any of us really think Penn State could ever be shamed?
It hasn’t yet hit me, and may never hit me, that I witnessed the fall of the most powerful, and seemingly invincible, figures at this university within a matter of days. Joe Paterno is a major reason why I fell in love with Penn State years ago, and I know many current students, former students, and Penn State fans feel the same way. Yet honestly, to me, the absence of Joe Paterno from tomorrow’s game will be more symbolic than anything else, considering that he’s spent much of the season in the press box anyway. But that does not make it any less surreal or any less heartbreaking that he, for the first time since 1949, will not be involved with Penn State football.
Still, for me, tomorrow is not about what has happened in the past week, but more about the precious few remaining hours I have in the Beaver Stadium student section. Tomorrow, when the game ends, a chapter of my life closes. I say goodbye to long days spent at Paternoville playing trashcan football, eating junk food, and BSing with my best friends. I say goodbye to four years of jumping around to Zombie Nation next to Mike, hugging Spitko after a touchdown, and listening to a shirtless Grassi loudly disagree with a particular play call. I say goodbye to many of the things I’ve come to love most in my time at Penn State, yet another transition away from the sweet innocence I’ve become so accustomed to here in Happy Valley.
Seniors, I urge you, embrace tomorrow for what remains, rather than what we’ve lost. You will still walk into Beaver Stadium as you’ve probably many times before, either after tailgating or Paternovilling the morning away. You will still be surrounded by your best friends as you sing along to Fight On, State after a Silas Redd touchdown. And, of course, you will still complain about the Noon kickoff time (don’t worry, so will I).
Underclassmen, I urge you, savor every moment of tomorrow’s game. You’ll be glad you did.
Fans, students or otherwise, I urge you, support the student-athletes who will run out of the south end zone tunnel tomorrow wearing the same blue and white they did two weeks ago, when our only worry fell from the sky in the form of snowflakes. This team, especially the seniors, needs you in their corner tomorrow more than ever.
Come early, wear blue, be loud, stay late. And remember, We Are STILL Penn State.