As the focus shifts to the Badgers and a date in Indianapolis, irony was not lost on me as I went through the process of choosing this week’s game ball recipient. In fact, it’s impossible to ignore considering the number of times I’ve heard this current team described as, “a bunch of fighters,” a subtle nod at Bill O'Briens post-game comments after beating a heavily favored Wisconsin on Senior Day in 2012. But, for me in particular, I was brought back to that season-ending game in Madison one year later, another victory over the highly ranked Badgers. 2013 was not particularly known for its defensive prowess, to say the least. In fact, at times it was downright awful considering that Penn State has always been known for its D. Towards the end of the year, we began to improve and against Wisconsin, we even resembled our old self, just a little and that’s where the irony comes into play.
In my opinion, our defense got better in part because of a little-known freshman linebacker who at the time wore 26. His name, Brandon Bell. I vividly recall Bell flying all over the field that day in Madison. It seemed he made a living in their backfield and at the time, he gave me hope that the future carried possibility. On Saturday afternoon against Michigan State, Brandon Bell took the Beaver Stadium field one last time as a senior. The quiet, soft-spoken Bell was once again in charge of a suffocating defense and led the team with 18 tackles. He was named the Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts and got to end his home career in Blue and White standing on that stage as an integral part of a Championship team. It is with tremendous honor that I present a guy I’ve referred to throughout the years as “The Silent Assassin,” the final game ball of the regular season.
Just as crucial to this team’s identity is the sophomore sensation, Trace McSorley, who once again came out of the halftime locker room and led his squad to an annihilation against a proud Spartan team that entered with thoughts of an upset. McSorley ended with four touchdown passes, over 300 yards total offense (the Penn State record for most yards in a single season), and for his efforts was named the Rose Bowl Player of the Week. Certainly worthy of a game ball himself, but something tells me he wouldn’t mind giving it up to a senior teammate. The kid is the epitome of team and the more he plays, the better we become. Speaking of teammates, the redemption king Mike Gesicki added another record for most receiving yards by a Nittany Lion tight end, and simply would not be denied that touchdown with Spartan defenders hanging all over him around the end zone. Chris Godwin may not have set any records, but he continues to climb the charts as he added two more TD's himself, one of which was a shake and bake that left his defender dazed and confused. On a day when superstar Saquon Barkley couldn’t quite get going and eventually left with a sore ankle, Andre Robinson took over and accounted for two TD's of his own. Last but not least, helmet stickers aplenty for a patchwork O-Line who had little trouble keeping Trace upright and gave him plenty of time to pick his poison. Just like the LB's earlier in the year, they have taken that “Next Man Up” mentality and run away with it.
In the end, Penn State football defied insurmountable odds. They did what many predicted would be impossible. The Nittany Lions survived. Not only did they survive, but they came back stronger. It all began with names like Mauti, Zordich, and McGloin. Rather than run away, they embraced our culture. Rather than throw up the white flag, they buckled their chinstraps and went to work. In the end, seventeen seniors remained and followed their lead. On Saturday, they stood on a makeshift stage and were declared the winners. Winners in life, winners on the gridiron, and winners of the mighty Big Ten East. Regardless of the outcome this week in Indy, those seniors and the seniors that preceded them have left a legacy that will never be forgotten. A Legacy of Champions indeed, and for that, we can all be proud!