This has been an emotional couple of weeks for any Penn State football fan.
The 2012 season ended in a fine way, with a superb win against Indiana and then a tense, passion-filled finish in overtime against a tough Wisconsin team. In the last two games, we saw Matt McGloin and Allen Robinson tie or break offensive records. At the Indiana game, we saw linebacker Michael Mauti get injured. And we all cried as he was driven off the field in a cart.
At the Wisconsin game, we saw the 31 seniors who stayed despite the NCAA sanctions come out onto the field to be honored.
We watched the year 2012 be put up on the east suites wall in honor of them, something that is normally reserved for undefeated years or championship seasons.
We watched the defense stop Wisconsin, and we saw kicker Sam Ficken win a game on the strength of his kicking leg in overtime.
We saw Michael Mauti on the sideline motivating his team, all of whom wore No. 42 on their helmets. We saw a defense step up in the second quarter after Wisconsin scored two quick touchdowns in the first. We saw a team that had no quit in them.
And we saw a crowd that stayed through the end of the Wisconsin game despite the bitter cold, that was there to help this team close the season well, even if it took extra minutes in overtime to do so.
This week, we saw all sorts of accolades go to Penn State players and their coach. Head coach Bill O'Brien beat out undefeated Ohio State's Urban Meyer for Big Ten Coach of the Year.
Well-deserved, coach, well-deserved! Because even under normal circumstances, replacing Joe Paterno would be a daunting challenge. Under the extraordinary circumstances that Bill O'Brien faced, it was downright amazing to achieve an 8-4 record.
Also well-deserved are all the other Big Ten selections of Penn State players for various honors:
Deion Barnes, Big Ten Freshman of the Year
Michael Mauti, Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year
Allen Robinson, Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year
All-Big Ten Conference First Team Selections
All-Big Ten Conference Honorable Mentions
Big Ten Sportsmanship Award
A solid 8-4 season, which started as an 0-2 season. Who would have thought, after everything that this team experienced in its last year, that it would turn out like this? Not my husband Terry, nor me.
We had made all our away game reservations in May, before the sanctions were announced. That was a good thing, because they weren't changeable. We figured we were looking at a 4-8 or 5-7 season when the sanctions were announced, perhaps even worse. We were not looking forward to traveling to all those games to watch our team lose.
The team exceeded our expectations by a long shot.
Normally this week, I would be engaged in speculation with friends, colleagues and my husband Terry as to where Penn State might be going to a bowl game. It is a somewhat empty feeling to realize that the rest of the college football season will pass us by. It has been several years since Penn State's season ended so early, and that was due to a losing season in 2004.
Football for the rest of this season will still be fun to watch, but it won't be quite the same when there are no stakes involved for your team.
To not go to a bowl game when a team puts in a solid performance of an 8-4 season, especially given the circumstances this team confronted, is difficult for all the students directly associated with football Saturdays.
It's not just the players who miss out on the opportunity to go someplace warm over the holidays. It's also the band members, the cheerleaders and the dance team who miss out. A bowl game was a reward for all of them for their hard work during the season.
For us, it was how we spent our holidays. Every year, we would wait until the first week of December to make our travel plans. Not this year. Our plans for the holiday are already set.
A bowl game also gives the players extra practice sessions, and that can help set up a team for next year's season. Not this year. Not for Penn State.
And it's not due to anything that this group of Penn State student-athletes or this new group of coaches did to create unfair advantage on the playing field of football.
It's due to criminal activity by a serial pedophile who took advantage of his position as a retired football coach to molest children on campus and elsewhere.
What happened to Penn State could have happened anywhere. Child sexual abuse is more common than we as a society care to admit. But because it is such a heinous crime, people are quick to react and to judge, often before all the facts are in.
There are still court trials to be held to determine the guilt or innocence of Penn State administrators.
In spite of the fact that the juries in those trials haven't even been chosen yet, the Penn State football program has been condemned and sanctioned in a way that exceeds anything the NCAA has ever done in response to criminal charges anywhere.
There is an old folk song where the words are "There but for fortune go you and I."
To all the fans of college football who now hate Penn State due to the vile acts of one man, let this be your mantra.
What happened at Penn State could have happened on any college campus. There but for fortune go you and your beloved program.
That is why it's very important to get to the truth as to how this could have happened and understand why administrators at Penn State didn't report the 2001 shower incident to authorities. I am hopeful that the court trials next year will help us understand.
And that is why there still is much to be discovered on how to prevent a pedophile from invading a college campus and doing his ugly deeds in such a setting ever again.
The Freeh report could not because the Freeh team could not interview several key individuals facing court trials or subject anybody to cross-examination under oath.
Everywhere we traveled this season—to Virginia, to Illinois, to Iowa, to Nebraska and to Purdue—college football fans approached us with sympathy rather than with disdain. They understood our pain.
We had more welcoming comments at every place we visited than we have ever had in the past. People went out of their way to ensure that Penn Staters were greeted and respected.
Travel to away games this year, in fact, was more fun than usual. Especially when we won on the road. And most especially at Iowa!
For that, we will be eternally grateful.
As I reflect on this season, it has been a remarkable one. One which exceeded all our expectations. For that, we thank the 31 seniors who stayed and led the way for the rest of the Penn State football team.
This team does deserve that 2012 honor on the east wall of Beaver Stadium.
Even if the year 2012 will remain one of the hardest years ever for Penn State and the State College community, a year that many of us would just as soon put behind us as rapidly as possible.
Thank you, seniors, for doing all you did to give us hope that we will, in fact, recover from the tragedy that beset Penn State. Thank you for contributing to the healing in this town.
You did your part to make us smile again.