Pregame Predictor: Northwestern
I was raised on hating Pitt because that's what I was trained to do at a young age. I had the good fortune of being in those stands in 1982 when Todd Blackledge connected with Kirk Bowman to beat #2 Nebraska. Four years later, tears of pure happiness and joy trickled down both cheeks as Pete Giftopolous cradled his game saving interception on the Fiesta Bowl grass to secure a second Penn State National Championship. I saw the LaVar Leap with my own two eyes and have a personal picture of him on the defense's bench just after. Signed, I might add. I felt the electricity run through my veins when Adam Taliaferro defied all odds and led his team out of the Beaver Stadium tunnel in 2001. I heard JoePa ask us all to "look around" after win #400 and I lost my voice for days as we all rattled JT Barrett and the Ohio State offense every time he tried to snap the ball during last year's White Out. I don't tell you this to bore you with the story of my life, although I have lived a life intertwined with some fantastic memories of my beloved Nittany Lions. No, I tell you this just to qualify what I am getting ready to say so please bear with me.
Without a doubt, the good has far outweighed the bad but there has been a cloud hovering over all of us since 2011. I even made a conscious choice to stay away from my home away from home for most of 2012. Not because I was ashamed, but because I was afraid. I was afraid that the only place I could go and know without a shadow of a doubt, that I would find peace and happiness, had somehow lost its edge. As if a lifetime of memories would be completely washed away in one fell swoop. It was a foolish fear, but a fear as real as the light of day. Of course, that fear quickly subsided and reality took its place.
Since then, I have taken more of those 5-hour trips home to Happy Valley than I have ever taken before. We have grown tighter as a family. The wagons were circled and we were all forced to grow an, "us against the world," mentality since those days of darkness back in 2011 and 2012. We lost a leader and a friend, a grandfatherly figure to us all and watched another walk away after two short years. Because of that, we all now live with a lack of trust, a reciprocal effect of those events. We use to live off of blind trust I suppose. There was no reason not to and now we're not quite sure who to trust. Unfortunately, James Franklin bears the brunt of that and he really shouldn't. None of this was his fault. I don't bring up these things to rehash bad moments or put the pain back in the spotlight. No, I bring them up to justify what I am getting ready to tell you so please bear with me just a little longer.
In July of 2012 we were labeled. Labeled by a man who wouldn't know us from a hole in the wall. He sat on his high horse and waved his finger at us like a teacher scolding a child. We were told our culture was a bad thing. He told the world that we lived a culture that was no good. That loving football in the fall and loving our team, our colors, our Penn State family, and living Success With Honor to the best of our ability was somehow wrong. They tried to change that culture to fit their public agenda. In the process, they did their best to render our football team irrelevant. Four years later, I am proud to announce that our culture is as strong and as proud as ever and our football team stands at the doorstep of major success and guess what? There is no reason to be ashamed of the culture we live.
Penn State travels to Evanston, Illinois to take on the #21 ranked Northwestern Wildcats at noon on Saturday. After last weeks 39-0 Halloween beating of Illinois, I found myself looking back on all those memories, both good and bad, intertwined into our lives. I held my head just a little higher. I wore my Blue and White gear with just a little more pride. We are now all standing at a crossroads. The past four years have not been easy. At times, they have been a living hell. But through it all we stayed together as one. Family, united with a common bond.
Normally I fill this piece with X's and O's but today is a little different. You see, we turned a corner one week ago. A quarterback that had been beaten and bruised to a pulp remained tall and has found his touch once again. An O-Line that has been the brunt of jokes and sarcasm has suddenly turned into a pretty reliable unit. An offense that was once known as lethargic and undisciplined not so long ago is now ranked second in the nation in plays over 30 yards. The scary thing about it all is that this is just the beginning. They haven't even scratched the surface of their full potential. On Saturday, our Nittany Lions embark upon a season ending stretch that is as crucial as any they have ever faced. A trip back inside the Top 25 and more rests in the balance. A win and Penn State can officially add its name to the short list of those fighting for a Big Ten Championship. Four years ago a co-worker told me he was surprised I was still a fan. At the time, I snapped back at him. I was angry. I was hurt. But most of all, I was scared. Fear of the unknown had taken over. Today, our vision is as clear as the rising sun. Our resolve has mirrored that of the football program we so dearly love. On the Road To Redemption Penn State wins another one 27-13 and we can all enjoy a huge exhale in the process.