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Submitted by Tim Buckley on Mon, 11/08/2010 - 11:55am.
Usually this space is reserved for musings about highs and lows, weather patterns, and talk about the forecast ahead -- but not today. Instead, I'm going to talk about what's been replaying over and over in my head ever since Saturday afternoon; my most recent love affair with college football.
Anybody who knows me can describe my relationship with Penn State Football in one word -- obsessed. Once August turns to September, my brain flips a switch and is in full-blown "football mode". I can't even brush my teeth without thinking about the weekend's matchup. To some it may seem silly, but ever since I enrolled as a freshman in 2005, "Football Saturdays" have been a way of life.
This past week was no different. I spent much of my free time checking up on the team, looking at the matchup with Northwestern, and making my rounds on the various blogs to read different takes the talking heads had on our chances. But this week the talk didn't revolve around the game on the field, but instead on our head coach - Joe Paterno. The legendary coach was sitting on 399, and would attempt to become the first person ever to record 400 victories in major college football.
The only problem was, I had no plans to attend the game. I'd planned out my trips before the season started, not knowing when or if 400 would occur. But as I sat and continued to read articles about the potential history that might unfold, I started to get antsy. As luck would have it, a friend called me up Wednesday and offered up two free tickets for the weekend out of the blue. At that point I realized, I had to go.
By the time Friday rolled around, I packed up the car and hit the road for another 9 hour pilgrimage northward in hopes of seeing history. What I found was as familiar sight as ever. The tailgating fields were packed with fans early in the morning, the echoes of the band practicing were in the air, many of the leaves had changed and since fallen, and the chilly, breezy, cloudy atmosphere just screamed "football weather" in the Big Ten.
After a few hours of tailgating, reuiniting with friends, catching the Blue Band's pregame rally, and lots of anticipation, the clock struck 3:30, and it was finally time for football. Inside Beaver Stadium, the legendary head coach led the team out of the tunnel the same way he has for 45 years, insisting this was just another game. However, we all knew it was anything but.
As the game started, the Lions quickly found themselves struggling on all sides of the ball. In the blink of an eye, Northwestern hammered home three touchdowns with ease, putting the score at 21-0. In 45 years, a Joe Paterno coached team had never come back from a three touchdown deficit at home. But there was some extra motivation for the players on Saturday.
Coming into the second half, Penn State had a certain something extra in their step. All the plays that weren't working in the first half suddenly clicked. The defense was unstoppable; the offense fluid. Almost as quickly as the deficit had arrived, it was gone. Five straight touchdowns put the team on top 35-21, and they would not look back.
The remarkable and furious comeback put a newfound life into the crowd of 110,000. All of us were buzzing with anticipation to await what would happen when the clock hit zero. What would happen at the end? Would Paterno give a speech? Would the players hoist him up in celebration? It was as if we were a group of supporters watching their friend round the final turn of a marathon in first place. We knew we were about to witness a major accomplishment - we were excited for him.
After a few dull running plays, and a kneed ball, and a few thousand flashbulbs, it was all over. Paterno calmly walked across the field to shake the opposing coach's hand in victory for the 400th time. But before he could get there his players ambushed him, and raised the 83 year old up on their shoulders. Even the typically reluctant Paterno cracked a genuine smile as he enjoyed yet another milestone in his unparalled career.
The celebration that would follow just cemented what I already knew, that "Football Saturdays" at schools like Penn State are hardly just about football. Sure, two teams duke it out on a field in front of 100,000 crazed fans. But really? It's about celebrating your school, sharing your pride, reuiniting with friends, coming together to carry on traditions and writing new chapters in an ongoing legacy. At Penn State, Joe Paterno is much more than just a football coach, he's a physical embodiment of the entire university. As much as Joe Paterno is Penn State, Penn State is Joe Paterno.
In the end, I couldn't be happier for a coach I've come to know from afar over the past 5 years. I'll remember it was the highlight of my freshman year when I shook his hand as a member of the band as he walked past us in the tunnel. I'd never imagine that the coach who was 79 at the time would still be winning games 5 years later. But he's still going strong. Still coaching his team. Still making an impact. Still making Penn State the best university it can be. And he'd be the first to tell you, "there's still more I can do." We can all take a lesson or two from that.
Congratulations Coach Paterno!
By: Tim Buckley