The last time the Penn State Nittany Lions took the field at Beaver Stadium was Nov. 12.
That seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it?
For the record, the Nittany Lions lost that day, a close 17-14 defeat at the hands of the Nebraska Cornhuskers. I was in the stands for that game and I can tell you that it was more than a football game. It was an emotional experience.
Now, here we are, 10 months later. The new-look Nittany Lions will take the field on Saturday under the direction of first-year head coach Bill O’Brien. Paterno, of course, wasn’t there on Nov. 12, having been fired by the Board of Trustees on Nov. 9. Tom Bradley directed the Lions that day.
So much has changed since that afternoon. The team went on to lose three of its final four games. O’Brien was hired. Paterno passed away in January. The majority of the coaching staff was let go, including Paterno’s son, Jay. The trial of former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky re-opened the wounds. He was convicted of 45 of 48 counts of child sexual abuse in June.
Then, there were the sanctions. Wins erased. Fines levied. Scholarships taken away. Players departed. Verbal commitments said farewell before they could sign their letters-of-intent. There will be four bowl-less seasons for O’Brien and his charges.
But what Penn State fans everywhere must realize is that for as bleak as things appear, it could be worse.
The NCAA toyed with the idea of bringing the hammer down even harder than it did. There was talk of the Death Penalty. For how long? No one really knows. A season? Two? Three? Four? NCAA president Mark Emmert debated it, but in the end spared the football program.
That’s something to be thankful for. Imagine, just for a minute, Sept. 1 with no football in Happy Valley. No RVs in the parking lots. Empty hotels. Restaurants with no lines. It would have impacted more than the football program, that’s for sure. It would have cost the Centre Region jobs, both at the university and elsewhere.
Saturday’s game will have a different feel. Things have changed at Penn State — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. While we’ll never be able to erase the bad things that happened here, we can — and will — move forward.
In addition to there being a new coach and staff on the sidelines, there will be something new on the jerseys — players’ names. Undoubtedly, there will be new songs played over the loudspeakers, some new cheers and new videos on the JumboTron.
The Penn State helmets will be the same — plain white with a blue stripe running down the center. However, look for the blue ribbon on the back of the helmet. The ribbon, of course, pays tribute to victims of child abuse.
At Media Day back on Aug. 9, O’Brien said that the ribbon was the most important addition to the Penn State uniform.
“(The) ribbon will signify putting an end to child abuse,” he said.
By now, most of us know what the ribbon signifies. However, there are probably some out there who do not know what it means. Perhaps it will educate and enlighten.
If it makes you reach into your wallet and donate to a charitable organization, great. If it makes you want to donate time and mentor a child, even better.
Over the past few seasons, my 14-year-old son and I have formed a bit of a gameday routine. We’ll make the short walk down Curtin Road through the sea of blue and white to Beaver Stadium and find our way to our seats. As we walked through the gates last Nov. 12, we knew that Penn State football would be different. It continues to change.
There was a time when I wasn’t certain that we’d be able to spend several Saturdays at Beaver Stadium this fall. There was a time when I believed the stadium would be dark.
Fortunately, for Nittany Nation, that isn’t the case.
On Saturday, park in your usual spot. Tailgate like you normally would. Cheer louder than you ever have before.
Just don’t forget about that patch. Most importantly, don’t forget about the victims.
Breakdown: Week One
Ohio University will not be a pushover for the Nittany Lions. Head coach Frank Solich led the Bobcats to a 10-4 season in 2011 and they won the Idaho Potato Bowl. Quarterback Tyler Tettleton will test Penn State’s secondary early and often. Look for a close game with emotion being the difference.
Gantdaily.com prediction: Penn State 24, Ohio 16.