When Joe Paterno spoke about "returning favors" at the Rally in the Valley this year, it pumped up the crowd in Rec Hall and the viewers across the Interwebs.
For about nineteen hours.
Then Alabama dominated Penn State on the Beaver Stadium turf, seemingly without exerting any effort, and Paterno's words suddenly rang hollow.
It didn't get any better at Temple game the next week. Sure, Rob Bolden drove the team down at the end and they won a game they probably had no business winning, but stock in optimism could be bought for a song among Penn State fandom.
Eastern Michigan? Didn't tell us anything. Except that we wouldn't have Mike Mauti for the rest of the year.
But then the Big Ten schedule started, and slowly Paterno's words are beginning to seem like prophecy. Beating Indiana by 6? Can't really say that returned any favors - Indiana hasn't been favored with a win over Penn State. But a win's a win, right?
Besides, everyone knew we'd lose the next week to Iowa, right? Kirk Ferentz owns us. Not this time. Favor: returned. 13-3.
Homecoming win over Purdue? Can't really classify as a returned favor, but we won again. 3-0 Big Ten. Favor returned to local press who thought we'd be out of it by now, maybe.
Away at Northwestern, who is 0-3 in the Big Ten. Fowler, Corso, and Herbstreit all pick against the 3-0 Nittany Lions. Dan Persa was going to do it this year. Just like he did it last year, remember...? Funny how if the Lions are in it at halftime, somehow Bradley, Johnson, Vanderlinden and Buggs always make the adjustments. Just like last year. TB's been around the block a few times, so he wasn't 'gunning for Herbstreit,' but favor returned to ESPN.
This week, Illinois at home. Just like last year. Last year the Fighting Zookers embarrassed the Nittany Lions on Homecoming Day. It was the lowest point of the entire season.
But this is a different team. Despite the unresolved QB situation, the freak injuries, the coach once again stuck in the pressbox, it's a team that at least for right now, is of one mind. Take away the ball. Run the ball. Pound the ball. Put the opponent on his back. Play Penn State football, just like they've been doing it here for 125 years.
This Saturday afternoon, the 2011 PSU football team will get another opportunity to return a favor.
Go State. Beat Illinois.