Monday, October 03, 2005

sixteen candles

Throughout my life, I always thought I carried some kind of football curse, possibly in combination with my wife. My high school team--supposedly unstoppable and dominant all through the 80s and early 90s of 6A football in Kansas--slowly went downhill after '95 and couldn't bring home a state championship my senior year (or since, I believe). I went to college at BYU, supposedly a great football school, only to see them get stomped on year after year. By my sophmore year of college, I was only a casual football fan, and I figured that's all I would ever be. After all, I came to Penn State last year to see the Nittany Lions continue a dismal losing streak.

But all that changed last November. My wife and I went (with free 50 yard line tickets, no less) to a Penn State game, and we instantly fell in love. Sure, it was the last game of the season and so people were pretty excited. Sure, it helped that we won against Michigan State. But there was more to it than that. The echo of the stadium. The passion of the fans (old and young)--even after a losing season. The pregame tailgating smells. The way the entire town gets into the action. For the first time, I experienced a football thrill and saw just how good this game can be. Grad students aren't supposed to care about sports and school spirit--we're supposed to be above all that. Count it down as one more way in which I'm not fit for grad school.

I was excited when this year rolled around. I haven't been back to Beaver Stadium, but I haven't missed a game yet (though I only saw bits and pieces of Saturday's upset against Minnesota). And suddenly, the rest of the world is discovering what I discovered last year. Nittany Lion football is fun. Joe Paterno--old as he is--still has some fight left in him. And now we're ranked number 16? Maybe this curse was all in my mind after all . . .

Now, I'm not an idealist. I don't think our chances against Ohio State are great this Saturday. Because Ohio State is good and big and tough. But they're not unbeatable. And the Penn State team that played on Saturday is riled up and excited to be on a 5-0 winning streak. They're excited that ESPN College GameDay wants to come to Happy Valley. They're excited to be talked about as one of the surprises of the football season. And they're excited to be ranked number 16. It's been too long. Win or lose, I'm hooked. I'm a Nittany Lion through and through, and I may just be a Penn State fan for life.

Now if only I can score some more free tickets . . .

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