Friday, November 11, 2005

Putting the "Happy" Back in Happy Valley

Numb. Numb to the losses. That's the first word I think of when it comes to the 2003 and 2004 Penn State football teams. Only seven wins in two seasons. Seven wins in one season was considered disasterous. Suddenly JoePa was too old, Penn State couldn't recruit the playmakers on offense and the offensive gameplan hadn't received a facelift since 1985. On November 9th, 2004 the fortunes of Penn State football began to change when Justin King, one of the top recruits in the nation, chose Penn State over Michigan and Florida. The Nittany Lions were coming off of a 14-7 home loss to Northwestern and dropped Penn State to 2-7 and faced possibly losing to Indiana for the first time ever. The game was ugly. Indiana went toe-to-toe with Penn State for the full sixty minutes. Then it all came down to one last play with three seconds left from the one yard line. On the play, PSU's defensive line pushed Indiana's tailback backwards and ended the game, giving the Lions their first victory since September. And so began the exorcism of the demons that had plagued the Nittany Lion football program since 1999. The Nittany Lions came within three feet of losing to Indiana.

Everything has been rainbows and lollipops in State College ever since. Derrick Williams, the #1 recruit in the nation, jumped on board two days before Christmas and promised to return Penn State to glory. To say the least, his goal has been accomplished. Perhaps to an extent even he did not truly imagine to be attainable. I would have laughed if someone told me in mid-summer that Penn State would be a second away from a perfect 10-0 start. I thought this team would be good but I didn't think 9-1 and a win away from the Big Ten title good. I figured that this team would have to go to East Lansing just to have a shot at a New Year's Day bowl game. Instead Penn State has a chance to capture their first Big Ten title in 11 years.

This season has been a dream come true. It was humiliating the past two seasons to see Nittany Lion football decompose in such an ungraceful manor. The 2003 team just simply could not overcome the loss of six first and second round draft picks and the lack of effort put into recruiting began to show. The 2004 team really was just a player or two away because we are seeing the finished product in 2005. With almost the same defense intact, the offense finally came into 20th century. I myself knew that Penn State was back on October 8th around 10:45 PM when Scott Paxson fell on Troy Smith's fumble. Beaver Stadium erupted. The Nittany Lions had done the impossible and upset the Ohio State Buckeyes. The mighty Buckeyes. They said their linebackers were better, their defense was stronger, their quarterback was faster and their receivers were better. Unfortunately for them, Penn State dispelled all of those myths. 17-10. It wasn't the prettiest victory but it was still a victory. I was way up in NG, jumping up and down on the bleachers. It was the culmination of the long road back. For two years, PSU fans suffered loss after loss, just numb to it all. But now it's all changed. Penn State is back where we rightfully belong. Joe Paterno could never go out on a losing note. But everyone said it was time. What this has taught me at least is that what JoePa said was always closer to the truth than what any fan or beat writer ever said. JoePa said Penn State was "only a player or two away". People laughed. Said the game had passed him by. Now Joe is getting the last laugh. And so are the Penn State fans that believed in him. I can guarantee one thing. If this season Joe Paterno wasn't pacing the sidelines, PSU wouldn't be anywhere near a 9-1 record. Welcome back to Happy Valley. The Nittany Lions have finally returned.


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