Spoke in a Winning Wheel

Spoke in a Winning Wheel

Was that the game we’ve been waiting for or what? On the hundredth anniversary of Penn State playing in the first Rose Bowl, our Nittany Lions won the last; a fairy tale ending on a historic night at the final Granddaddy of Them All as we know it. And a touchdown from an old school T-formation to boot.

It was a momentous night from start to finish with the team arriving in 34 jerseys to pay tribute to Franco Harris, one of the truest Penn Staters to ever represent the program.

Penn State and Utah matched up for the first time ever, both teams clearly invested in the competition to the point of emotions nearly boiling over in the first half. Both teams came into the contest with similar records and minimal opt outs. Both teams were very good--good enough to make us nervous.

And then both teams traded scores until Nick Singleton broke through for an 87-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter. To open the fourth quarter, Clifford connected with KeAndre Lambert-Smith for the longest passing touchdown in the history of the Rose Bowl. Just like that Penn State pulled ahead of the Utes in a manner we had wished for all season long.

Clifford, in the post-game press conference, told a story about his dad taking him to the Rose Bowl as a kid and how he fell in love with football there. He said it meant so much to him to have life come full circle and to “be a spoke in the wheel for this team.”

When we remember Sean Clifford in the seasons to come, his Rose Bowl performance will be first on our minds. Through all the many more ups than downs, he led us through two tough seasons and into a successful one. He remained steady in the face of widespread criticism and saved his best for last. We’ve all had mixed feelings about Sean’s final year with us, and I absolutely had tears in my eyes as he stepped off the field one last time. I was struck by Coach Franklin’s awareness to call a timeout to ensure the four-year starter and four-year captain had his moment of recognition. We’ll forever remember Clifford’s legacy through Rose-Bowl-colored glasses.

Franklin’s post game comments regarding Clifford’s leadership lauded the Penn State ideals we hold so dear. “I’m just happy for him,” Franklin said. “He’s kind of seen it all in his Penn State career. And, at Penn State, it’s important not how we just do it on the football field but in the classroom and in the community. He’s done it with the utmost class the entire time. That’s what college football is about. And that’s what Penn State is about.”

I can’t imagine a more fitting way to honor Franco Harris than the Grand Experiment on display for a national audience. It’s not always easy to be part of this football program or to represent this storied university. With the heart of a lion, we steady on through the lows and we celebrate together in the highs. We are, each of us, a spoke in the Penn State wheel. 

Don’t we wish every game looked that good? What an absolute joy to watch Penn State put an exclamation point on a boffo season. Until we meet again next fall, I wish you peace and happiness in the new year.