There ain't much difference between winnin' and losin', except for how the outside world treats you. But inside you, it's about all the same. It really is. Fact of the matter is, I believe that our only curses are the ones that are self-imposed. You know what I'm sayin'? We, all of us, dig our own holes.
-Coach Gary Gaines
Friday Night Lights
I've been fortunate to spend the last several days completely "unplugged." No emails, Facebook, Twitter or even as much as checking in with my BSD family to learn about the headlines of the day. Based on the dark clouds that have hung over State College for months, I assumed I would return to some unpleasant news. However, I wasn't fully prepared to learn that Silas Redd, Penn State's best player heading into the season, would suddenly now be a USC Trojan. Not only that, but others were on their way out, with several more impact players on the fence. If nothing else, it made me finally come to the realization that Penn State football was just about to begin a long road to recovery.
It would be preferable if this realization never had to take place. I could just imagine counting down the days to the start of college football season like all the ones that have come before it-- dreaming up scenarios that lead me to believe that this would be THE TEAM that somehow always found a way to win, and keep it going until they find themselves at 14-0 and hoisting the elusive crystal football. Most importantly, it would be nice that it was just another "normal" football season because it would mean there were no victims who had to suffer an unimaginable fate. Penn State football would still be that brief weekly three-hour window of escapism, where none of your other problems mattered and the worse thing that can happen is that the good guys in blue and white score less points than the team across the field.
Sadly, this isn't a bad dream that we can wake up from. The victims will forever have to live with the atrocious acts that can't be wiped away. We will all have to live with the shame that a man we held in such high-regard as a respected member of the community preyed on innocent children for years, while we obliviously debated quarterback rotations and non-conference schedules.
Regardless of your thoughts on the fairness of the sanctions handed down by the NCAA, the Penn State football program will be practically starting from scratch during the next few years. Things will only get much worse on and off-the-field before much hope returns. And I'm not going to lose any sleep over it. Because at the end of the day, the joy being part of the Penn State community is better than any type of joy brought by winning a few football games.
Football is what drew me to Penn State, but it is not the thing that has kept me as part of the Penn State community. Since my first trip to State College for ArtsFest in 1995, I've witnessed countless things that have demonstrated the uniqueness and generosity of the Penn State community. I've seen fans organize a touching tribute to Virginia Tech just days after the tragic shooting in 2007. Every spring I get to witness a group of students dance on the field, absolutely giddy with the fact that they helped raise eight figures to fight pediatric cancer. I was blown away by talking with some of the students involved with THON to learn that it's not just a philanthropic weekend, but a year-long commitment to help find the cure. When my father and I attended the 2010 Penn State-Kent State game, he wore a KSU ball cap to support his alma mater. We couldn't go more than two minutes without a Penn Stater stopping us to ask how we were enjoying State College and if there was anything they could do to help accommodate us. I've been welcomed with open arms by perfect strangers to join their tailgates, and had food practically shoved in my mouth. Last fall, a group of students that I had just met hosted me for the Illinois game so that I could get the experience of camping out in front of Beaver Stadium and sitting front row of the student section, just because they wanted to share the experience with a fellow Nittany Lion fan that attended school elsewhere.
I could continue to write for hours about these type of experiences, but the bottom line is that the pull of being a Penn State fan doesn't have much to do with wins and losses. It has everything to do with being part of a community where people genuinely care for one another-- something that is too-often lacking in our society.
Watching a Penn State victory certainly makes for a more satisfying Saturday. But it doesn't need to be what defines us as a community. We all survived The Dark Years, and we can get through the rocky road ahead. There are plenty of nasty, dark clouds above the State College, but that beautiful blue sky is still back there somewhere. We certainly haven't seen the last of it.
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