For quite a number of years, Penn State football fans were a relatively idealistic lot. We believed not just in college football, in on-the-field product, but in everything that a superior product could represent, whether we ourselves were observing that exact on-field product week in and week out in Happy Valley or not.
Of course, nearly three years ago, a lot of that changed. A lot of our number became disillusioned, and many football fans have been culled from the ranks of the blue and white faithful who, year in and out, had packed Beaver Stadium every fall Saturday.
The two years of Bill O’Brien’s tenure saw attendance numbers dwindle, still gargantuan compared to 98% of the programs in the nation, and eyeballs were still glued to television sets to see how Penn State did every week; but it wasn’t the same. There wasn’t the same energy or enthusiasm around the program; instead, O’Brien and his team, those bunch of fighters, and we fans who stuck with them and supported them, were fighting just to survive. Then, of course, O’Brien left to fulfill his own lifelong dream.
Enter James Franklin.
With Coach Franklin comes a renewed sense of energy surrounding the program; it’s not just a youthful exuberance, it’s not just excitement on the recruiting trail or social media savvy or the seeming-mainlining of Monster-brand energy drinks every day. There’s legitimate excitement about Penn State—there’s a sense that Penn State football can really, truly, be the powerhouse program it once was, that we all sensed it potentially could be, that was asleep for years and, quite possibly, once these sanctions are finally done and over with, can be once again sooner rather than later.
And for those of you who stepped away, whether just for the off season or for longer because you couldn’t stomach being around what others tried to tell you was our problem #culture, I say welcome back, casual fan.
I’m one of the fans who never went away. I wore my Penn State pride quite literally on my sleeve, sometimes to my detriment, but always because I did and do believe in Penn State. I love and have loved Penn State—not just football, of course, but that’s where it starts for many of us, because that’s what’s most visible. That’s what got many of us to come to Penn State in the first place.
I believe not that ours is better or worse than other football programs; that’s not what being Penn State is about, in my humble opinion. It’s about being the best version of yourself, caring about your Penn State family and those around you, and the Penn State community and your greater community-at-large (even if they include, shudder, Buckeyes or Wolverines). Yeah, that’s cheesy. Yeah, that’s idealistic. Yeah, you can scoff, call me a hypocrite, say I don’t practice what I preach; you’re not wrong. I, like all of us, am not perfect, and it’s an ideal. But I try.
I try to practice success with honor. The success part is sometimes harder than the honor part, as that’s often what we have less control over.
That’s why I’m truly welcoming back the casual fans. Sometimes, in the past, this post has been written drunkenly, with derision, tongue-in-cheek, almost making fun of those who don’t stick with us here on BSD through the dregs of the off-season. Not so, this year. Because we’re truly glad to be here, in our small corner of the internet, talking about football and the future of Penn State and Penn State football, with you fine people.
So welcome back to football season, Penn State fans! And welcome back to Black Shoe Diaries for the duration of the season. We’re glad to have you.