This week, there was some big news to come out of Happy Valley as the Nittany Lion football team lost a big-name player.
In today’s edition of Morelli OnLion, we’ll take a closer look at the departure of a certain Nittany Lion and also re-visit a rivalry that needs to begin again.
The story of Brandon Ware is just about over.
Just a little over a month ago, Penn State coach Joe Paterno said that Brandon Ware was on the right track. With his weight apparently under control and his grades in check, Paterno said that Ware would be “a really great football player.”
But that changed recently.
Several Penn State fan sites reported earlier this week that Ware would transfer because he is academically ineligible for the 2011 football season.
Ware would have been a redshirt junior this season. He’d battled weight issues since his freshman season in Happy Valley. According to the Nittany Lions’ spring roster, Ware weighed in around 320 pounds and had lost over 40 pounds. Ware’s weight was one of the biggest battles Ware faced during his time at PSU.
He told the Harrisburg Patriot-News that he was leaving “for personal reasons.”
At his pre Blue-White Game news conference, Paterno indicated that Ware was on track for a big season.
“He’s doing really well,” Paterno said. “(He) had a good semester academically, and the player’s got ability. He’s 320 pounds now, and he was 340, 350. We got him down by 20 pounds. He moves well, and he’s got everything. He’s going to be a really good football player.”
Paterno knew of Ware’s academic problems, though.
“His problem again is academic. We’ve had to tie him down a little bit to go to class, and he’s really trying. He’s trying for his own good as well. He’s going to be a really good player the next eight, nine years. He’s really got a lot.”
But in the end, he didn’t have enough.
PSU and Pitt … Perfect Together
In case you missed it, first-year head coach Todd Graham said last week that he’d like to see the Panthers play the Nittany Lions again – soon.
“I can remember watching that game growing up and the tremendous tradition that that game was, and we would actually love to play that game in the future,” Graham said. “It would be something that we’d be very much in favor of.”
Paterno of course, left the news conference before he was faced with answering whether he’d like to get Pitt back on the schedule.
Let me say this as simple as I can: Pitt needs Penn State. And Penn State needs Pitt.
Yes, you read that correctly. The high and mighty Nittany Lions need the lowly Pitt Panthers.
Penn State is coming off an extremely mediocre 7-6 season and there are likely more of those seasons looming in the immediate future. Despite the presence of Alabama on last year’s schedule and again this season, Penn State’s schedule lacks the blockbuster rival that it had for most of the Paterno Era.
Sure, we’ve tried to manufacture rivalries from Michigan and Ohio State, but those have never turned into the rivalry that the Nittany Lions had with the Panthers. The Big Ten tried desperately to manufacture a season-ending with Michigan State. Land Grant Trophy, anyone?
As far as the battles between Pitt and Penn State are concerned, I can still remember those great games during the 1970s and 1980s. The game usually took place right around Thanksgiving weekend and often decided undefeated seasons and bowl fates.
The problem is that there is an entire generation of fans who don’t know what the rivalry once was – and what it could be again. It’s been so long since the teams have played that Paterno himself has forgotten how great those games were.
The problem is that Penn State wants two home games for every trip to Heinz Field. That’s plain old arrogance and there’s simply no place for it in the rivalry. Take the financial hit, suck it up and play Pitt in a home and home.
Graham is right.
This rivalry has to happen again. It needs to happen again.
Chris Morelli is an award-winning writer/editor who lives in Centre County and covers Penn State athletics for gantdaily.com. He’s also a regular on “Sports Central,” which airs on ESPN Radio in Altoona and State College. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, be sure to check out Morelli OnLion on Facebook!