This is excerpted from Penn Live
The final score, a 24-14 defeat to Ohio, seemed secondary, the Bobcats merely a foil for this exercise in emotional exorcism.
Nittany Nation simply longed to get back to this, just to this: Playing a football game. For many, the previous ten months seemed an eternity.
And while roars went up when that first kicked football went flying, there’s no forgetting the pain or minimizing the loss — all that was stolen by the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal and university leaders’ inadequate response to early reports of his abuse. Namely, 111 team wins wiped away, a once-sterling reputation sullied, a football legend’s legacy rewritten, Joe Paterno‘s bronze statue outside Beaver Stadium unceremoniously dismantled.
And of course, the irreplaceable childhood innocence of ten boys was taken when they fell victim to a pedophile predator. One whose heinous acts took place in part on Penn State football program property. The locker room, no less. The showers. Heaping hurt upon hurt, Jerry Sandusky wasn’t stopped for more than a decade, even when numerous officials, including Paterno himself, had the chance.
All this made for a delicate balancing act for a first football game.
Fans flocked bound and determined not only to bear witness to a new beginning, but honor past traditions and long-held game day rituals.
They joined hands and formed a ring around the entire circumference of Beaver Stadium to remember all sexually abused children and safeguard the innocence of others. And in this act of honor, they formed a line of defense around the stadium, as if vowing to never, ever allow this happen there again. Later, they would hush the stadium in silent salute.
This team is special. All of its members could have chosen easier paths to greener pastures in the aftermath of devastating NCAA sanctions. But they stood pat. And yesterday, Penn Staters stood proud, lining the blocks in front of Beaver Stadium in touching tribute to this team.
Long-time fans say they’ve never witnessed so many people, literally throngs who turned the street into a blue-and-white canyon, which echoed with the school’s signature chant. This time, shouted with a new sense of urgency, resolve and defiance. This was Penn State loyalty reflected back upon itself — first by loyal players and then by their loyal fans.
Mostly, it was the little things that were new: Players with their names on their backs and blue ribbons on their helmets. The piped-in stadium music favoring classic rock, not pop schmaltz. The fact that a few fans felt the need to remind everyone that the last 14 years of Penn State football actually did take place. They did this with signs declaring, “409 Forever,” referring to Paterno’s erased wins record.
Bitter feelings over unrelenting media scrutiny remained close to the surface. A chorus of boos rained down on an ESPN reporter, just as the camera’s red light went on and he began his live TV report.
“Hypocrites,” shouted some. “Go home ESPN!”
Also in no short supply: indignation over Paterno’s unceremonious firing and what some see as a posthumous frame-up job by the Freeh report and university officials who commissioned the investigation and accepted its findings.
A Loss on the Field, A Lesson Off It
In the end, it was a game. And at the end of that game, Penn State lost.
Fans couldn’t help but feel bad about this. Where was the Hollywood ending to Penn State’s new beginning when one needed it?
“We’re just very disappointed. I felt sure we could win,” said Dorothy Aurand of Eagles Mere.
Did it dampen the mood? Sure. Fans streamed from the stadium somewhat dispirited, but not defeated. Their goodwill toward a team and a new coach who would have given anything for a better debut, undiminished.
That’s because what a football community accomplished this day could not be calculated on a scoreboard.