Put on my plain black shoes
And I boarded the plane
Touched down in the land of the Dallas News
In the middle of the pouring rain
J.V. Paterno, won’t you look down on me
Yeah, I got a first class ticket
And I bleed blue as a man can be
Then we’re running on Memphis
Running with my feet ten yards down the field
Running on Memphis
But does the vict’ry feel like we are healed?
Probably any season can be distilled down to a few plays; a few moments. Snippets of time that mean almost nothing out of context, but everything in the moment. Their full meaning may not even be evident at the moment they occur, but in retrospect as part of a broad canvas of strokes continually being applied. Any season can be marked by ups and downs, the natural tides of human emotions splashing up and down the shores of our lives.
But this season feels different. Maybe not unique–but different.
I still recall the 2005 season. Penn State was coming off a 4-7 season (2-6 in the conference)–the end of the “dark years” but see, we didn’t know that at the time. We did not know that as the 2005 season opened. We were unranked, and ended up #3. But we coulda been a contender! After a lackluster out of conference schedule,featuring wins over South Florida, Cincinnati and Central Michigan (none of these teams having a good year) and then a come from behind 34-29 win at Northwestern that kind of sparked the imagination and excitement. The turning point! (Some argue it was the goal line stand against Indiana the season before and I could concede that argument–and it only bolsters what I am trying to say here in a very circuitous way.) But it was not until we upset #6 Ohio State 17-10 two weeks later that we actually became ranked for the first time since 2002.
And then we lost a heart breaker to THEM–Michigan. Spit. Spit.
Who forgets the infamous two seconds? The heel toe alleged catch? Multiple shenanigans by the referines.
Those memories are only there because they mattered in some broader unforeseen context. If Penn State had lost to Northwestern, or Minnesota or Cincinnati–none of that would have mattered or even be remembered. They might not have even happened!
I am one of those fans that wished Penn State had the chance to play Nebraska in 1994. In my heart, I truly believe Penn State would have won and been crowned the National Champion.
But that doesn’t mean it would have happened that way. Penn State might have gone to the Orange Bowl and LOST to Nebraska. In fact, that scenario is probably statistically just as likely as the one we Lion fans assume would have happened.
Ask any Ohio State fan about that today. They all sat glued to their seats watching the Fiesta Bowl–where they wanted their team to be–where they deserved???? to be–where destiny was going to watch one of the best offensive powers in the history of college football and a stingy defense to go with it dismantle Clemson and move on to a championship that was almost pre-ordained.
It didn’t happen. In the end, those moments–snippets in a time sequence that are part of a future always in motion–take on new perspective.
Instead of remembering Justin Fields completing a comeback touchdown pass to win the game, Buckeye fans will forever have etched in their collective memories a receiver falling down, a Clemson defender intercepting and falling to the ground in the end zone, and no National Championship. Along with that, a touchdown pass to Dobbins waved off for failure to complete the process, and a scoop and score reversed and changed to an incompletion. A star-player ejected. There are others I’m sure. Just ask a Buckeye fan.
That could have been us in 1994. As it is, we can still believe in our hearts and minds that we were Number One, and we still have some great memories of one of Penn State’s most glorious seasons.
I was afraid our players would not take Memphis seriously. I was afraid that we would not play with any intensity. That instead, the collective morale of the team would be one of thinking about what coulda, shoulda, woulda been had the snippets earlier in the year been different.
Nobody wanted a win against Minnesota more than I did. NO ONE. Depending on who you are, I will grant you that the desire is equal, but trust me, it was not greater and I am still stewing over the Minnesota loss in 1999. Iowa 2008. Michigan 2005. Oklahoma 1986 Orange Bowl. USC 2017 Rose Bowl. I could go on. You get the point.
I have gone on record asking fellow Penn State fans not to watch the Rose Bowl this year. The Bowl didn’t want our team–they shouldn’t get our fan support either. WE ARE! A package deal.
But then I wonder? Would a win over Oregon be guaranteed? Would a loss in a “better” bowl be better than our win over a good Memphis team? Would a win in the Rose Bowl be more remembered than our victory in the Cotton? Would we be ranked higher? We still won’t be number one, and does five mean more than nine after the dust settles?
No. It wouldn’t. The loss in Minnesota and the near comeback that failed in Columbus will be what is most remembered. And a bowl loss would have been equally etched in our collective mindset in a negative way.
This season is what it was. A year with fairly high expectations (ranked 15th I believe before even the first snap) and while a lot of folks worried about losses to Michigan and their little brother, an almost expected loss to the Buckeyes, and potentially another loss at Iowa, we out-performed expectations and then some. And although there was disappointment, at the end of the proverbial Ryan Day, I think we will be ranked in the Top 10 and will enjoy the off-season and good memories much more than 95% of other programs in this country.
The Cotton Bowl, although perhaps stressful to us fans that really want to win, was a fun game to watch. When we finally decided to just run the daggum ball and not try to force passes, we did amazingly well. I still think James Franklin needs to work on his clock management skills. A timeout with a minute left in the first half and barring a potential Memphis penalty that would give us an automatic first down, was unnecessary. We only had two plays left. TIME WAS NOT THE ISSUE. Granted, maybe they needed the timeout to come up with a play, but that is a whole other can of worms to open up for an ice fishing trip in Minnesota. But it looked like we panicked and called time out to save time. I’m sorry, barring that automatic first down which may or may not occur, you are only going to run two more plays. You don’t need a minute to do that.
So what happened? We scored. Yay! But now we left enough time on the clock for Memphis to score, and true to the script of the season, they did just that, tacking on a field goal before the half.
In the great, grand scheme of things, it turned out not to have mattered. But that is hind sight. We didn’t know at the time if those three points could be the difference in the game. It was 35-23 at the half (12 point difference) versus the coulda, shoulda, woulda difference of 15. Both are two score margins, but you know what I’m talking about.
YOU DON’T WANT AN OPPONENT KICKING A FIELD GOAL TO END A HALF. Period. If nothing else it gives the underdog momentum. I’m not even going to argue this any further.
Micah Parsons had a great game, and the defense bent but did not break. Wait? What? Didn’t we give up 39 points? Yes. Yes we did. But Memphis also had more total yards than we did, yet we won the scoreboard battle, which is ultimately the only stat that counts. Let’s look at those numbers . . .
BY THE NUMBERS:
I think the key stats were the 63 yards rushing for Memphis versus the nearly 400 for Penn State, the eight penalty yards for the Tigers, and the interception returned for a touchdown by Penn State. Also, the defense forced 6 field goals! Again, they bent but did not break.
This was the first meeting between these two schools. We lead the series 1-0!
Attendance was listed at 54,828. Penn State didn’t seem to dominate those numbers, but that could be due to Memphis being a lot closer. Dallas isn’t an exciting bowl destination. I’m making excuses, but the fan base that traditionally traveled well, didn’t seem to embrace this bowl trip for whatever reasons.
THE BIG (TEN) PICTURE:
The flagship program of the Big Ten bit the big one against Clemson in the Playstation Fiesta Bowl. Too bad. So sad. Clemson scored late to take a 29-23 lead, but Justin Fields was unable to orchestrate the comeback drive.
Iowa looked impressive as they defeated the Trojans of So Cal 49-24.
Michigan State outlasted the Demon Deacons of Wake Forest, winning 27-21.
Illinois, despite being able to upset the Badgers in the regular season, laid an egg against Cal, losing 35-20. At least the Buckeyes have some company in the Big Ten Teams that didn’t win their bowl category. Michigan might join them. They can have a party!
Up Next–> Blue-White Game: Beaver Stadium April 18, 2020.