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This Is My Team

There's a scene in the movie Hoosiers where basketball coach Norman Dale (played by Gene Hackman) benches one of his best players because the kid is being a ball hog and not executing the system. He's coaching the team of a very small high school, so he only has six players on the team. Benching his best player means he has to bring in a tiny kid at probably stands 4'10" and weighs 110 lbs soaking wet.

In the movie, the game is close and in the final minutes one of the other kids fouls out of the game. The kid who got benched earlier gets up off his seat and starts taking off his warm up sweats. Hackman tells the kid to sit down. Then the official comes over to the bench and says, "We need a fifth, coach." Hackman rolls his notes in his hand and thinks for a moment. Then he tells the ref, "My team is on the floor." They play the rest of the game with four players and lose. The parents and fans demand Hackman's head on a platter, but the team was better for it in the long run.

This is pretty much how I feel this morning as a Penn State fan. I can't believe some of the things I'm reading after Penn State lost to Iowa last Saturday. It's not that I haven't read similar stuff before. You know the routine. Fire the coaches. Bench the quarterback. These players suck. Recruiting sucks. Joe is too old. Yada yada yada. It gets so borish.

Now there's this drum beat growing out there to play Kevin Newsome. Really, people? Incidently, these are the same people who cried that Pat Devlin didn't get enough playing time. They were complaining that Anthony Morelli should have started in front of Michael Robinson in 2005. They are too short sighted to see the real problems. They think benching the quarterback will solve everything. Rob Bolden has had about the best education a rookie quarterback could possibly get having played two of the best defenses in the country on the road in his first two road games. But hey, let's bench him and start over with Newsome and his 16 career passing attempts. Sure. I mean, he must be better than this. Don't trust the coaches who see him throw every day in practice. They are obviously buffoons.

It never ceases to amaze me how Penn State fans go into every season thinking their team is going 12-0 or 10-2, and then after the first setback they're ready to fire the coaches and bench the best players. Then it's up to people like me who told you this was going to happen to tell you you shouldn't have been running down that road in the first place.

We all knew going into the season that this team was going to struggle against Alabama, Iowa, and Ohio State. Most rational fans were predicting a 9-3 or 8-4 season. So now that we sit at 3-2 with losses to Alabama and Iowa, why the panic? This is where we thought we would be, right?

But Mike, this team makes too many mistakes. They don't play up to Penn State standards.

Well, if they didn't make mistakes they would be winning these games, right? In the game recap the other night I layed out the breakdown of this team by class. There are 57 guys with freshman or sophomore status. So yeah, they're going to make mistakes. But am I the only one who sees the potential in this team? When I see guys like Rob Bolden beating out Newsome and Matt McGloin, or guys like Khairi Fortt, Silas Redd, Justin Brown, Pete Massaro, Silas Redd, and James Terry getting meaningful playing time against Iowa, I get excited for the future of this team.

For years I've heard Penn State fans whine and complain that Joe Paterno refuses to play younger players. They accuse him of being too loyal to the seniors. Well, this year you are getting your wish. I can't remember Joe Paterno ever playing this many freshmen and sophomores at the same time. But now he's doing it, and we're losing games. So where is the humility on the part of these people? How about admitting maybe the old man knew what he was doing all of these years. If you can't do that, how about just shutting up. You finally got your wish. Now sleep in the bed you made.

If you all want to be the casual Penn State fan, go ahead. The door is right behind you. Don't let it hit you on the ass on the way out. Go mow your grass or get a jump on that Christmas shopping this weekend. Give away your tickets, or sell them if you can make a buck. That's up to you. But we'll save your seat for you, and you are welcome to come back whenever you wish.

But don't act surprised when this team starts winning games against Ohio State and Iowa. If you want to see a precident for the last time Joe Paterno played this many young players, look to the 1967 season. Paterno benched his seniors and replaced them with sophomores. They upset Miami, and nearly upset UCLA. Then they didn't lose another game for three years.

So please don't call it luck when they start winning again. They are going to get better. They are going to improve. They will get smarter. They will get faster. They will get stronger. And while you are off doing whatever you are doing to pass the time until that day, I will be here cheering them on and watching them grow up. My team is on the field.