A Team to Remember
After last week’s devastating loss to Ohio, I’m still trying to figure out the best way to approach the 2012 Penn State football season. And while I don’t have all the answers, I think I have at least one.
Forget the outcome; the Ohio game was a catharsis for Penn State. There’s no doubt about that. After the worst summer Dear Old State has ever seen — with the Sandusky trial, Freeh report, and especially the NCAA sanctions crashing down on the university in such a short period of time — it was therapeutic just to see the white helmets and blue jerseys run out of the tunnel again.
Indeed, there was something not quite the same about this loss — something different that I’ve never experienced before as a lifelong fan. I have no shame in admitting that I cried after Penn State lost to Michigan in 2005 to ruin their perfect season. In 2008, after the last second loss to Iowa, I was so upset that I didn’t get out of bed for over a day and a half.
Like most sincere fans, every loss carries some negative emotional impact, but Saturday was different. Last Saturday, it just seemed to matter less who won or lost. What mattered most was that we were just there in the first place.
You see, Penn State football has really never been about football at all — something that seems to have been lost on the NCAA and sports pundits alike. Penn State football, at least to me, has always been a tangible example of our collective pride as a university. It’s about coming together on Saturdays, bonded together in blue and white, cheering on our classmates who have always represented us with pride. It’s less about sports than it is an example of our united heart, working to progress Penn State as an institution.
We need that unity more than ever right now.
None of that has changed. In fact, despite the NCAA, it has been strengthened. These 114 players — minus the nine who abandoned us — will forever be bonded by their remarkable commitment and resolution. Like all of us, they “pledged their love and loyalty,” and that means even when times are tough. I know I’m not alone when I say that Penn State could finish 0-12, and my appreciation for these 114 men would not waver one bit.
Growing up in central Pennsylvania, I’ve had the opportunity to listen to proud Penn State men talk about the mythical teams from generations past. With a hint of embellishment and a twinkle that only comes out when they talk about such things, these men tell stories of simpler times.
They talk about the 1982 Penn State squad and Gregg Garrity’s catch in the corner of the endzone that won it all for the first time. They talk about Curt Warner, who could run like a freight train, and Todd Blackledge, who could hit any receiver without ever breaking step.
They talk about the Alabama blowout in 1986, and D.J. Dozier, who required a swarm defenders to stop him. They talk about the 1987 Fiesta Bowl, a game no one thought they could win, and Shane Conlan, who never missed a tackle.
They talk about Thomas and Ham and Millen and Cappelletti. Sometimes, if you’re at the right tailgate, you might even hear about “Riverboat” Richie Lucas or Dave Robinson.
But the one common theme of these legendary tales — aside from harmless aggrandizing — is that they have been passed down from Penn Stater to Penn Stater, father to son, with an incredible sense of pride. “I was there,” they all say. “I was there to witness something special.”
And so I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since Saturday, which has led me to one definite conclusion.
This is the team I’ll tell my kids about one day. Whether we realize it now or not, we are all witnessing something special.
And it has nothing to do with the score.