There aren't usually moments that we shed tears about college football.
We didn't in 2005 when Penn State beat Ohio State, 17-10, in one of the biggest games in Big Ten history.
We didn't in 2009 when Penn State went to the Rose Bowl and got their butts handed to them by USC.
But in 2010 we did when Joe Paterno clinched his 400th victory as coach of Penn State football.
It wasn't the prettiest start: Penn State didn't play a game of football until the last drive of the second half, when they reduced a 21-0 (and exceptionally shabby) deficit to 21-7.
Hope started to spring, even as the weather (both here in London and State College) began to freeze.
And then, by poetry, Penn State played the second half of their lives. Even in the UK, this branch of Nittany Lion Nation could only stand and cheer and pump his fist as Evan Royster, Silas Redd and the offensive line absolutely bulldozed Northwestern.
And there was a little bit of poetry too.
Walk-on quarterback Matt McGloin hit the former offensive tackle-turned-tight end-because-of-injury-woes Nate Cadogan to help make it 21-14. You could smell the comeback coming.
The defense battled Northwestern's offensive line. Penn State got the ball back after a three-and-out, and McGloin's beautiful pass to Derek Moye, a legend in the making, caught the ball to help make it a tied game at 21.
Faith was restored in Beaver Stadium.
The 'big uglies' in the crowd—the four horsemen of the Maskopalypse—were getting to some key time on TV (with Penn State winning, that's never a bad thing!), and Penn State had just come back from its biggest deficit in Joe Paterno's history.
It got better.
After yet another punt, Evan Royster gashed the Northwestern defense and Silas Redd—whom we might well see in the Top 10 in three years time if he doesn't do anything stupid—ran in for a four-yard touchdown to help make it 28-21. More hugs in Beaver Stadium. More fist pumps from London.
After another punt by Northwestern, the noise at Beaver Stadium is at fever pitch. Baton Rouge, eat your heart out. A bullet by McGloin hits Graham Zug, who catches the ball. Redd follows by with a huge 29-yard run. A pass to Royster sends No. 22 into the end zone from 13 yards out...35-21.
Beaver Stadium once dissolves in a mass of hugs. London weeps a little...and worries that his cheering might wake up the wife and annoy the neighbours.
Northwestern then puts together a drive from its own 30 that puts them on the Penn State 9. Everyone takes a breath in. They've seen the defense disintegrate against Alabama and Iowa, and the whole team disintegrate in a joke loss to Illinois. One incomplete pass from Dan Persa goes incomplete to Drake Dunsmore.
The fourth-down shot flies straight to Mike Trumpy, who has an attack of the Graham Zugs, and drops the darned thing in the end zone. Beaver and London exhale in unison, following by high-fiving and fist-pumping.
Another four-minute drive goes by, with the only thing of real note a run from this Redd kid for 30 yards. By the end of the day, Royster and Redd ran for 265 yards. A monster kick to the Northwestern 7 gives the Wildcats poor starting position, and we're all feeling a bit more confident.
A lively drive pretty much ends with defensive MVP Mike Mauti sacking Persa. Pete Massaro follows it up with a sack of his own on fourth down.
Paterno carried off the field. The Paternos, Penn State Nation (either in London, Beaver or wherever a blue-and-white cap finds its hope) shed a year.
Congratulations, Mr. 400.
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