I realize you don’t know me and I really haven’t earned the right to call you by your first name, but there are a lot of years and good football games running down the back roads of my memories. I feel like I’ve known you for half my life. Those memories Joe…those memories are good ones, the kind you never forget, the kind you tell your kids and grand kids about.
I know you have them too, even though you don’t much like to talk about them anymore. But the memories I have, and that most of my friends have, are not so much about wins and losses as they are about two titans of football and the teams they lead – teams that went shoulder to shoulder and chinstrap to chinstrap sacrificing blood sweat and tears for the game they played, for the schools they represented, for the coaches that lead them into battle. They gave all they had, gladly, gallantly and asked only for an education in return.
Wow Joe. Those were the days weren’t they? Those were the games. Alabama and Penn State. Only the strong need apply and only the best will be selected. Only the best can face the best, gridiron warriors in the grandest sense of the words.
But, that was then and now is now and…well, you know how it is. You saw the same game on Saturday that I saw, the one that my friends saw; the one that was broadcast to every household in North America. It wasn’t the same was it Joe? In your heart, you knew it wouldn’t be. You saw the films, analyzed them; you broke down every play and player. The script was there in X’s and O’s and in 4.4 forty’s.
Alabama’s players were better than the ones you were bringing to Tuscaloosa. Bigger, faster, stronger. The only thing is, you didn’t know how much better. No one did. Some suspected the chasm was deep, but few would concede it. Joe Paterno’s teams always show up, always hang in there; always play tough.
But Saturday…well last Saturday, not so much. And I know that you know. You know in your heart and in your football-savvy mind that the difference you saw on Saturday isn’t about to go away in another year or in two years. You could see that Alabama has talent stacked on talent and they aren’t the only ones. There are others out there banging at the door, striving for the top, wanting to reach the top as badly as Alabama wants to stay there. Maybe even more. But, there can be only one at the top and a few near the top and the rest, well, the rest will have to bide their time and wait a while. Not you, Joe. Not you.
If you lined up Penn State’s 22 starters and Alabama’s 22 starters and asked someone you trust to pick the best 11 offensive and best 11 defensive players, how many of those players would be wearing blue and white? Three? Four? None?
I know that the football bounces funny and that all things are cyclical and that one day the roles will be reversed. But Joe, when? Not next year, not the one after. This year, Penn State has an opportunity to win 10 or 11 games and proudly represent a proud university and one of the greatest coaches in football history. Let them do it my friend. Let them win it and let them go. It’s time to experience tail gating and rubbing elbows with fans that would likely lay down their life for you. It’s time to sleep in on Saturday or to go fishing or walking or just doing more of nothing at all.
You are a man that has seen the world from the mountaintop. There’s not much solace in striving for anything less. The time comes when there’s just not enough left of it to strive for anything more. The heart of a champion never ceases beating to a different drum, to have a greater hunger. Yours is the heart of a champion. It always has been, and it always will be.
YOU ARE. PENN STATE. Don’t ever forget it