The news is out, the nerves have cleared, and the pressure is on. Penn State is about to compete in its 45th bowl appearance.
This is a big game for the Lions. They have not participated in a bowl game since 2012 and they have not won a bowl game since 2010 when they scraped past LSU for a 19-17 victory. A lot has changed since then – they’ve had two new coaches, a host of new players, and a new attitude.
The 2012 TicketCity Bowl was rough on the team; they had just lost a beloved coach, their school was in trouble, and playing football seemed pointless. Players that were accustomed to Joe Paterno’s system were floundering in the abrupt change to the coaching staff. When the sanctions came down and a few notable players – Silas Redd, Anthony Fera, and Rob Bolden to name a few – transferred in search of greener pastures, it looked like nothing but gray skies for Penn State football.
Fast forward three years and the university is finding that, against all predictions, it is still standing strong. Nearly all of the sanctions have been lifted, and getting the chance to go bowling is the cherry on top for the seniors who stayed and went down in Penn State history as legends. They sacrificed to serve their school, their teammates, and the fans who stuck with them.
Senior linebacker Mike Hull is one of those legends, dedicating himself to his teammates, not his career.
“I thought we were just going to play 12 games a year for each other, and just live with that for the rest of my career.”
When the NCAA gave the Lions the opportunity to become bowl eligible, they gave the team and its fans new life.
“It’s a huge day for the program,” Hull said after the win against Temple that gave the Nittany Lions bowl eligibility. “For everything that we’ve been through, it’s just great that we can finally get the program back to where I think it should be, and this is a great step in the right direction.”
Kicker Sam Ficken emulated Hull’s thoughts, smiling as he added, “A bowl game is a big deal.”
Jump back to early in the season when rumors were flying. Amidst the speculation of the bowl ban lift, Penn State students waited with bated breath. When the news finally came, so did tears of joy.
“When the sanctions were lifted, I cried because it means so much to the university and to the team to be able to play in the postseason again,” said senior Megan Woodward. “[A Penn State win] would be the sweetest thing to see as a senior, considering I haven’t been able to see the team play in a bowl since my freshman year.”
To sophomore Matthew Sherman, the fact that Penn State is competing in the postseason shows the indomitable spirit of the university.
“I’ve been following Penn State football for as long as I can remember. By having the Nittany Lions go to the bowl game, it means that even when faced with adversity, we came out as one team. We still are and will always be Penn State.”
Penn State’s participation in the postseason game is ushering in a new era. The university is doing its utmost to move forward with its teams and fans. Although some disagree, in the eyes of many fans, the work that the football team has done has earned them a chance at forgiveness. There was a great deal of dissension when the NCAA lifted Penn State’s bowl ban; critics called it an injustice to Jerry Sandusky’s victims and the NCAA’s attempt to turn a sizable profit, but others view it as a sign of good faith that the university is on its way to atonement.
Senior Jay Wareham praised the Nittany Lions’ efforts.
“As a fan, I’m just happy for the players. They’ve worked so hard to build the program back up while still achieving ‘Success with Honor.’ As a fan, it’s nice to see their hard work being rewarded. I, for one, look forward to watching the game.”
The New Era Pinstripe Bowl will be held at Yankee Stadium on December 27 at 4:30 in the afternoon and will be broadcasted by the ESPN family of networks.
Photo Credit: GoPSUSports.com