Saturday, November 24, 2012

PENN STATE'S GREATEST SEASON


The lights have been turned out as the early vestiges of winter blow through
Beaver Stadium. Uniforms, equipment, and playbooks have been turned in
and will go into storage until the calendar turns over to April and it's time for
spring practice.

There isn't a conference championship game to play in or a bowl game that
Penn State can prepare for, the NCAA made sure of that when they took a
sledgehammer and tagged the football program with unprecedented sanctions.
The were designed to cripple and penalize a program and university that looked
the other way when the most heinous of crimes were being committed on its
campus.

However, with the stain and stench from Jerry Sandusky's child-sex abuse
crimes and the ensuing cover-up still lingering across a not-so-Happy Valley,
the 2012 edition of the Nittany Lions produced a season that could go down
as the best in the history of the storied program.

The greatness of their season doesn't come in the eight wins they produced,
although it's a remarkable accomplishment. An 8-4 season during the late
Joe Paterno's reign in State College would be considered a failure, but it's
close to a miracle considering the team had to play under an ominous cloud
created by scandal that left it shaken, not to mention shorthanded. The NCAA
gave the players a free pass to get out of the cess pool created by Sandusky,
the option to transfer immediately and without penalty. Nine of them bolted
to play for other schools, two others just quit.


The greatness of Penn State's season comes in the lesson they taught us all
in just how they won those eight games. It was a profile in courage, commitment,
loyalty, faith, and perseverance. Led by first-time head coach, Bill O'Brien,
the team lost its first two games. Many of the so-called experts thought Penn
State couldn't or wouldn't win a game. They said they lacked talent and would
have trouble overcoming the stigma of the Sandusky scandal. The experts
thought wrong. All of them.


Led by 30 seniors, who didn't ask themselves, "what's in it for it me?", which
seemingly has become the mantra for many people in our society, they put
Penn State first, staying loyal to the school they grew up dreaming to play for.
When the the team started 0-2, they didn't point fingers or become unglued.
Instead, they became even more resilient, winning eight of their last 10 games.
The final one against Wisconsin defined what the team was all about: heart,
character, and fighting back.


Penn State rallied to take a 21-14 lead in the 4th quarter, only to
watch the Badgers tie with with 18 seconds to play. Instead of folding
and feeling sorry for themselves, the Nittany Lions showed its toughness.

Sam Ficken, who missed four field goals, including the potential game-winner
in a 17-16 loss to Virginia, put Penn State ahead in overtime,  24-21, by making
a 32-yarder. Wisconsin had a chance to tie it, but missed on a 45-yard field
goal attempt.

The victory not only sent the seniors out with a victory they'll never forget,
it also validated O'Brien and his plan to flush out the past and reconstruct
a program in his own image. Replacing a legend like Paterno is far from easy, just
ask Earle Bruce, Gary Moeller, and Ray Perkins, who followed in gigantic
footsteps of Woody Hayes, Bo Schembeckler, and Bear Bryant, respectively.
He took a job nobody else wanted and did something very few coaches could
have done. Squeezing eight wins out of a team facing tremendous
adversity is worthy of national coach of the year honors.


When the game-tying field goal attempt by Wisconsin's Kyle French sailed
wide to the left, it marked the end of a year that everyone at Penn State University
would like to forget. At the same time, put the exclamation point on the
greatest season on history of the storied program.

Oh, sure, there were undefeated seasons under Paterno and ones where
national championships were achieved, but the achievement of the 2012 Penn State
football team is something that should be a lesson in what can be done when
the odds are seriously stacked against you.

We are Penn State.



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