Despite the extremely competitive nature once athletes reach the Division I level, at their essence sports are supposed to be fun.
“Fun” in one of the words you’ll hear thrown around most if you spend any time around the Penn State wrestling program, which has not lacked for success over the last decade.
Now, whether the winning preceded the fun or the fun preceded the winning can be debated, but it’s safe to say that there’s a correlation between the two.
If you’ll think back, for a moment, to the 2016 Penn State team that came out of nowhere to win the Big Ten and reach the Rose Bowl, one of the things that stands out is how much fun that team seemed to have.
Trace McSorley’s home run swing celebration was being broken out left and right. Jason Cabinda was flying around on the field making plays and then showing off his trademark gap-toothed smile. And who can forget Marcus Allen’s postgame locker room dance videos?
Now, again, whether the fun was preceded by winning or vice versa is questionable, but a happy locker room is usually a successful locker room.
This isn’t to say the Nittany Lions didn’t have any fun in 2017 or 2018, particularly the former when they reached and won the Fiesta Bowl in a strong 11-2 season. But once the expectations were raised to playoff contender level, things got a bit tone downed around Happy Valley.
That pressure seems to have been relieved a bit this year with the graduation of Trace McSorley as well as a few other key contributors on offense.
The Nittany Lions entered the season ranked No. 15, but many pundits didn’t quite know what to expect and very, very few were labeling them as playoff contenders. This release of external pressure could well allow Penn State to go out and play fast and free on the football field, something we saw a lot of in week one against a clearly over-matched Idaho team.
We also saw a lot of the Nittany Lions having fun. We saw Sean Clifford and KJ Hamler running around celebrating. We saw true freshmen, too young to even know that they’re not supposed to look so comfortable, making big plays and then jumping around pumping one another. We saw just about the entire offense pour onto the field to celebrate a touchdown run by walk-on Nick Eury.
There are few things as dangerous as a football team that plays together and is having fun. While the road will surely get more difficult for Penn State as the season progresses, if the players continue to have fun that could be a bad sign for the teams in their way.