Goodman: Rooting for happiness in Happy Valley

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Meredith Goodman, Columnist

I remember watching Penn State lose to Virginia by a single point in early September. I watched the incredible Nittany Lion linebackers, especially Michael Mauti, crush the Virginia offense, recalling why Penn State earned the nickname “Linebacker U.” I thought to myself that those linebackers had more heart than any football players I’d ever seen. Kicker Sam Ficken missed four field goals against the Cavaliers as the Nittany Lions suffered a second loss to Ohio University during an opening week game.

Fast-forward a month later and Penn State had earned four straight wins, one of which was against a ranked Northwestern team. Ficken nailed all his extra points and field goals. Quarterback Matt McGloin broke two Penn State offensive records and racked up his fourth straight 200-plus yard passing game. Of course the linebackers looked as solid and intimidating as ever.

This is a team that was given a punishment “worse than the death penalty” after some of its former coaches and school officials were embroiled in a child sexual abuse scandal. The Penn State football team will lose 40 scholarships over the next four years, is on probation for five years and have received a four-year postseason ban. Players were allowed to transfer without penalty to other teams, and as of late July, 18 players had left the roster, including starting kicker Anthony Fera.

This is a community that has been devastated in the wake of the abuse scandal. The Second Mile charity, which Jerry Sandusky founded in the small university town of State College, Pa., was where he acquainted himself with his child victims. The Penn State community has seen their once legendary coach Joe Paterno disgraced in the scandal. Paterno’s statues around campus and the stadium have been torn down, and his 111 wins from 1998 to 2011 have been vacated. Students and Penn State fans, many of them with families and children of their own, watched as their community became infamous for the scandal that occurred there.

This is also a team and a community with heart. As new head coach Bill O’Brien prepared the Nittany Lions for their home opener against Ohio University, Beaver Stadium was packed with fans yelling, “We are … Penn State.” When O’Brien and the team arrived at the stadium early that morning, hundreds of fans were there to cheer them on. Football players and fans alike wore blue ribbons to show support for victims of child abuse. Players wore their names on the backs of their jerseys for the first time, a move that marked a new era of personal responsibility. Penn State drew a crowd of more than 90,000 for its homecoming game, including many students wearing their traditional “white-out” attire.

Of course, after Penn State beat us in that homecoming game, I was mad. They wrecked our undefeated season on their home turf and destroyed our first top 25 ranking in years. As a friend reminded me, “football is just a game,” and I thought about that as I sullenly went home to start my homework.

My friend was wrong. Sometimes football is more than a game. It’s the inspiration when a team that was almost sentenced to death surprises everyone and comes back with an incredible season. It’s the pride you feel when tens of thousands of fans, even fans of the opposing team, refuse to give up on their team or community. Congrats on the win, Nittany Lions. You deserve it.

Meredith Goodman is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, email a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].