Nebraska vs. Penn State: A Game with a Different Meaning 1 Year Later
That's right. It has already been a year.
One year ago, Penn State, one of the most storied football programs in the nation led by the most storied coach in history, stopped being a college football team and became something else entirely.
Penn State football became a symbol. It became a symbol of all of the power and trust that college athletic programs carry. It became a symbol for how some people's morals and values are so skewed they'll put dollar signs before helping those in need—those too weak to help themselves.
Penn State football also became a symbol of strength for a community which felt like the nation had turned against them. The same team that many said should no longer exist became a rallying point for a collective group of people who were determined to separate themselves from a monster, even though many still refuse to make the separation.
The week after Penn State fired Joe Paterno, the Nebraska Cornhuskers walked into Beaver Stadium to play the first football game of the post-Paterno era. Few knew what to expect and many were nervous about what might take place on the field following a week of riots and violence.
Then, before the game even began, we were all put at ease.
Every coach and player from Nebraska and Penn State walked slowly to the center of the field, exchanged pleasantries and knelt together for a prayer led by Nebraska assistant coach Ron Brown.
By the time the prayer was over, even though hardly anyone outside of the group of players and coaches in the middle of the field knew what was being said, you would struggle to find a dry eye among the 100,000-plus at Beaver Stadium.
With that, if only for a moment, the tumultuous week was over and it was time to play a football game.
This Saturday afternoon in Lincoln, Nebraska, the two teams will meet again. This time, the game will mean much less in the grand scheme of things.
This time, the game could have a say in who goes to the Rose Bowl.
Penn State is coming off a blowout win over Purdue and will look to continue its "us against the world" season." Nebraska will be coming off an emotional win over Michigan State, knowing it must win to cling to the tiebreaker advantage it currently holds over Michigan in the Big Ten's Legends Division.
That alone will have Memorial Stadium buzzing. There won't be a pregame prayer at the center of the field this time. Just a coin toss, like every other week. And then a football game like every other week.
On Saturday, two teams will play just another football game. One team will play for pride. One team will play for a shot at a trophy.
No matter the final score, what happens on the field Saturday will only matter in a competitive sporting capacity.
One year later, I see that as a win for every player, coach and fan involved in or watching the game.
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