The Root of Our Expectations
So there I was, from about the 2nd quarter on, forced to stand on a chair and hold the antenna while getting a birds-eye view as our Nittany Lions took on Hershel Walker, Vince Dooley and the Georgia Bulldogs in the Sugar Bowl, with all the marbles on the line. True to my ever positive nature, I found a silver lining that night standing on that chair. You see, as Todd Blackledge launched his bomb, as Gregg Garrity laid out and made his beautiful diving catch, as Fran Fisher proclaimed Penn State National Champions and as we all watched Joe Paterno carried off on his players shoulders, I had the best seat in the house. Hands down. I may have secured the everlasting need for glasses that night, but it was worth every minute to see Penn State finally crowned number ONE! I was just a shade under 10 and it remains one of my most vivid memories all these years later.
On Sunday it was officially announced that Penn State will take on Georgia in the Taxslayer Bowl (formerly Gator Bowl) on January 2nd, in Jacksonville, Florida. Immediately after and given the fact that both teams have only met once before, memories of that historic Sugar Bowl win were evoked. The more I thought about that 27-23 win, the more I was reminded of this year's frustrations. Reminded of the expectations that come with being a fan of the Penn State Nittany Lions. Reminded that even though we had been on the doorstep several times before, the win over Georgia was the beginning of something different. Another level, if you will.
That win has come to represent the root of all that affects us today. The true birth of all of those lofty expectations. The very reason why 7-5 simply isn't good enough, even under the current circumstances. That game is partially to blame as Georgia heads into this Bowl with an interim coach rather than the man, Mark Richt, who led that program to SEC Championship games and Top 10 finishes over the past 15 years. 9-3 just doesn't cut it when you once played for #1. That game is the reason Todd Blackledge himself was able to tweet how embarrassing the 55-16 loss to Michigan State was two weeks ago. When Todd speaks, we listen. He earned that right back in 1983.
We are two completely different fan bases, separated by hundreds of miles with the Mason-Dixon Line somewhere in the middle, and yet we both struggle to get our teams back to that New Year’s night in New Orleans. Anything less has become a perceived failure. It is a thirst that can only be quenched by one lonely number, number one. Of course, Penn State went on to win another Championship four years later. That further solidified our justification for such expectations. Both Penn State and Georgia are programs full of history, firmly entrenched among college football’s elite.
In the coming weeks we will analyze the matchup and take a look back at some of Penn State's finest bowl moments. You may even get one last Pregame Predictor out of me before we close the book on 2015. But today, my friends, was a day to reminisce. We remember the Sugar Bowl fondly but also note that it carries its own kind of baggage, especially when a season doesn't quite go as planned. Little did I know, as I stood on that chair giving my best rendition of a human antenna and watching the confetti fall like snow on the Louisiana Superdome floor, that a 27-23 win over Georgia would come to represent the root of all our angst we share today, as glorious a night as it was.