Friday, March 12

In praise of Penn State

I'm an Ohio sports fan, and I feel good today.

There are those who think that maybe those two sentiments are mutually exclusive - after all, we haven't won a title since 1964, we've had too many memorably heartbreaking moments to count, the Browns are a mess, the Indians' payroll is low, and so on. The national perspective is: these people haven't seen a winner since the LBJ administration, plus Forbes recently named Cleveland the Most Miserable City in America, so there's no way people there could possibly be happy about anything, let alone sports. Clevelanders must just walk around with our heads down so we can't see the gray skies and sadness that engulfs us.

Well, sorry to disappoint. It's 55 degrees outside on a lovely early March morning. The Cavs have the best record in the NBA. Baseball is starting up soon - Major League Baseball! - and it's only a 10-minute walk from my apartment. My hockey team is gearing up to defend its Stanley Cup title. And the Ohio State Buckeyes haven't lost to the michigan wolverines in football in like 2300 days. There's a lot to be happy about, title drought or no, and I'm making it a point to appreciate these things. I remember when OSU couldn't beat michigan. I remember when the Cavs went 17-65. I had season tickets to the Pens one year when they finished last in the entire NHL. No matter what these clubs' postseason fates may be in the near future, there's still lots to enjoy, and I appreciate it.

I was thinking about that last stat, the fun michigan one, as I took a trip to The Pennsylvania State University this past week. Now, michigan is and will always be our biggest rival, and that's all there is to it. But in recent years, the game that's meant the most in terms of Big Ten positioning and championship determination has been PSU-OSU, and there have been some really good games in the series. I was fortunate enough to attend the 2002 and 2004 editions. In terms of talent right now, it's the Lions and Buckeyes at the top and everyone else a cut below.

But there's something different about this rivalry, something almost unique among the clubs I support: I respect Penn State. Consider our natural rivals in other sports. The Browns have the Steelers and Ravens. Do I respect those teams? Absolutely not, no way, OMG do I not respect those teams. Wow, no. The Cavs have the Celtics, Pistons, Wizards, Lakers, Magic, no, no, no, no, no. The Indians have the Twins, Tigers, White Socks, Red Socks, Yankees; of those, I can really only appreciate the Twinks, especially post-Torii Hunter. And back to the Bucks, do I respect michigan? I'm not even going to answer that.

But Penn State, now that's a major rival who I can respect at the end of the day. There are a number of factors here. For one, I know a lot of Penn Staters - probably more than Ohio Staters. My last two bosses were Penn State grads! Granted, OSU has PSU beat in the My Dad department, 1-0, but on balance I know way more Nittany Lions. And I generally like these people. My esteemed FCF colleague Nick attends Penn State. So there's that.

Also, I like the tradition and class of the program. The plain yet bold uniforms and those clean white helmets. The huge crowds. The tent city. (Basically everything but the moronic "We Are! Penn State!" cheer) And, of course, Penn State's institution of a coach, the legendary Joe Paterno. During my recent visit, I took a run around the campus, including a couple of loops around the monolithic Beaver Stadium. There's a monument to JoePa on the far side of the stadium and, if you're not moved by that thing, you might not be human and you should maybe see a doctor. The placard reads "Joseph Vincent Paterno: Educator, Coach, Humanitarian," and elsewhere features this quote from Papa Joe: "They ask me what I'd like written about me when I'm gone. I hope they write I made Penn State a better place, not just that I was a good football coach." That's terrific.

So, just thought I'd put a few kind words out there about a worthy adversary on the occasion of my first visit there. That having been said, I hope the Buckeyes crush Penn State in football again this season :)


Justin said...

You're the smartest, most intelligent Buckeye I've ever come across.

nice post.

Andy said...

Thanks! I appreciate the kind words.

I think a lot of OSU people have similar sentiments regarding PSU, but we tend to be the quieter ones.

Andy said...

Also: I took that photo. Turned out pretty nice, eh?

Figgs said...

My dad and brother are die hard Penn St fans, and several of my friends attend(ed) there, so I'm with you a 100% here. I usually make at least one trip up there a year, and it's always a good time. I especially like going when they're playing michigan, because I obviously turn into a huge Lions supporter that weekend.