It feels like we’ve always struggled to get fair and competent officiating in BigTen play. Flashback to JoePa chasing down the head referee following the 2002 Iowa game. The infamous two seconds for Michigan in 2005. Matt Lehman’s non-touchdown against Nebraska in 2012. The grass that made an interception for Ohio State and the clock that wasn’t watched in 2014. It’s been easy to dismiss us as sore losers. Not this time. This time we didn’t lose.
I rarely complain about referees. I believe they’re humans doing the best they can to make good and fair calls; it’s inevitable that they’re going to make mistakes. When there are obvious mistakes being made by the same crew, though, it’s a bit too coincidental.
I’m not claiming a conspiracy theory. I don’t think anyone is necessarily out to get Penn State but I do believe there’s a strong bias against us. Possibly an unconscious pushback on Paterno for never playing into the NCAA, BigTen, media, money machine game. Possibly compounded by an unconscious, ignorant reaction regarding the Sandusky scandal.
Whatever the reasoning, we’ve moved far beyond the subconscious. The writing is on the wall and everyone can see it. John O’Neill is either outright punishing us or grossly incompetent. I’ll leave that for the BigTen to choose, though obviously they won’t. Jim Delaney is about as spineless as they come and he owes us about $13 million in bowl revenues and a sincere public apology for his egregious censure.
Here’s hoping there's enough backlash that something is done. Because as Paterno said after his gripe, “The problem is, you've got a bunch of kids who are busting their butts to win a football game, working like dogs and I think you owe it to them to make sure the game is won by the players.” Seventeen years later, Saturday night’s commentators echoed the same sentiment.
This time we won. We beat Iowa. We beat the officials. And, we beat that negative energy inside ourselves that threatens momentum when things don’t go our way.
Franklin handled it in the best way possible while under the watchful public eye. His elated sideline celebration after the win appeared joyful with an edge of “take that.” His simple post-game statement spoke volumes: “The thing that was really interesting is, one of the least penalized teams in the country, and it didn’t necessarily play out that way. I leave it at that.”
The players took the high road as well. Pat Freiermuth, hounded with questions, deflected until he finally said, “Yeah, I felt I was in. I clearly wasn’t, but I’m happy we got the win. And it is what it is.”
And for what it’s worth, Joe took the same attitude in 2002. “I'm not going to get into the officiating," Paterno said. "Very rarely have I griped about officials. I've never blamed officials for losing a game or what have you, so I don't want to get into that now.”
Franklin once said we don’t accept moral victories—meaning a loss that feels like a win— but I think this game was a true moral victory. The John O’Neill’s of the world can’t stop us. Every ignoramus out there still claiming Paterno and PSU football is culpable for the actions of one former employee can’t stop us. The BigTen who only has eyes for Ohio State can’t stop us. The Dave Petersen’s of the world cannot stop us.
And so we keep moving Nittany Nation. We turn our attention to that ever-despised rival. Meet you at the whiteout, Michigan. The Wolverines can’t stop us either.