Penn State football players were rousted from their slumber and cajoled as they went through offseason drills today as more than a thousand students (that number is per the AP; it was close to 3,000 according to others) were on hand to cheer them on in the early morning.
The gathering, called "Rise and Rally," brought a bevy of fans—and a bevy of signs—to the Lasch football complex, all as a show of support for a program that's just one week removed from potentially crippling sanctions and what some perceive as an unfair overstep of authority by the NCAA.
Fortunately, what transpired didn't necessarily reflect that anger toward the NCAA, and that's a good thing. Per the Twitter feed of Ben Jones, there was one sign of dubious intellectual merit on that front ("Mark Emmert hates our academics" is the new "terrorists hate our freedoms"), but by and large, this rally was for and about the guys it should have been about: the players.
Were there a lot of fans there who thought the NCAA penalties were unjust? Yes, almost certainly. That's been a prevailing public sentiment from Happy Valley, and a sense of persecution isn't a thing that just goes away by itself over a matter of days.
But the punishment is done. It's not getting overturned. It's just not. There's no appeal coming, no reason for anything to change going forward. Penn State's sanctions are the new "normal" for the program over the next few years. That's just how it's going to be.
So any argument on the merits of those sanctions are effectively moot, and while moot arguments have their merits on an intellectual basis, they're not the sort of thing you demonstrate publicly about. You demonstrate for change, and the only thing that's a variable at this point is the level of commitment to the program from the students, community and players themselves.
Thus, by focusing on that, by working to strengthen the bond to an almost unprecedented degree—after all, when was the last time anybody else's fans rallied like this during a late July, early morning, non-mandatory workout?—Penn State's fanbase has struck the right chord and sent the right message to the players: We're in this thing for the long haul if you are, and we're pretty sure you are.
So more of this, please, Penn State fans. This is what the rest of the college football world wants to see.
Gone is the sputtering vitriol, the conspiracy theorizing, the misplaced anger and the loud, stubborn refusal to believe Joe Paterno could have done something wrong. Those may all be ways you feel, but it's not what anyone's interested in hearing about.
We want to see good football fans, period, and this rally is one hell of a way to show it.