Yesterday's game was supposed to be meaningless.
It was supposed to be meaningless because amidst all the urgent matters facing the university we love, the relative triviality of football--let alone one football game--has become readily apparent to all of us. It was supposed to be meaningless because under the weight of despair we've all felt for the past two weeks, the weekly fall rituals that have brought us joy for so long have taken on a very different feeling. It was supposed to be meaningless because win or lose, the team's postseason fate would be decided next week in Madison.
But for our fanbase, who in the mire of the past two weeks have been faced with such severe and somber issues as to make thoughts about the football team feel shamefully self-indulgent, yesterday's win was a turning point.
Although Penn State has been the center of my attention the past two weeks, football couldn't have been farther from my mind. I attended Penn State's final home game against Nebraska two Saturdays ago, but I didn't go to watch football. I went because I needed to be with my Penn State family--the handful I know and the thousands I don't, all of us grieving. I let myself get caught up in the action on the field for a few minutes at a time, but ultimately, the outcome of the game was largely meaningless for me--if anything, I'm kind of glad we lost, because it gave the post-game standing ovation that much more meaning.
But yesterday, as I watched Stephfon Green take Penn State's opening drive in for a touchdown, I was almost amazed to realize that football was still fun to watch. By halftime, this game, which had at first felt meaningless for so many reasons, suddenly felt like the most important game Penn State had played all season. All these players had to play for yesterday was pride. While all of us who love Penn State have always taken pride in our university, that pride has become tenuous and conflicted over the past two weeks. To watch those kids absolutely playing their hearts out was a reaffirmation of that pride.
We don't know what Penn State football will look like next year and beyond. I'd like to think that a groundswell of internal support will keep Tom Bradley, Jay Paterno, Larry Johnson, and Ron Vanderlinden at the head of the staff. I hope that the program holds together, and that the University's tarnished name doesn't destroy the pursuit of Success with Honor. I hope that the traditions that have brought me so much joy for so many years will continue to do so. Some of these hopes may be over-optimistic; all of them are threatened.
But right now, beneath all the tragedy and controversy and emotional conflict, we have a team of young men who have been coached by Joe Paterno and his staff, and who go into the final week of the season with a chance to win a championship.
A championship will not heal the victims or diminish the tragedy of the crimes against them. It will not help serve justice upon the men who remain affiliated with our university and who conspired to keep Sandusky's crimes a secret. It will not restore our university's tarnished reputation. It will not help to change public perception of Joe Paterno, who does not deserve the awful mistreatment he's suffered.
But if these players and these coaches manage to persevere in the face of such impossible adversity and win one last championship before Penn State football plunges into the unknown, they will forever be legends in the hearts of Penn Staters. For the program, it is a moment unlike any other.