This one will be remembered as much as any regular season game in school history
There were superstar performances everywhere about Beaver Stadium on a gorgeous mid-November Saturday afternoon.
They had nothing to do with the action on the field between Nebraska and Penn State.
The most tumultuous week in Penn State annals concluded with an apparently flawlessly executed event that provided a brief respite from the most extreme distress imaginable for the Nittany Lion community.
Planning, security, fan comportment, proactive student involvement, reverence, fellowship, respect - it all came shining through like a beacon of hope in the darkness.
Fears of unrest were unfounded, surely in part due to the extraordinary efforts of the event staff, and police and student organizers, as well as the fact that a Wednesday night, post-horrifying child abuse charges, post-JoePa firing, impromptu student gathering on College Ave is different than a Saturday at Noon at Beaver Stadium.
Instead of disturbances, we will remember a procession of searing moments:
- The honoring of the seniors; the captains entering arm-in-arm; the enormous midfield pregame prayer with every member of both teams plus perhaps 300 PSU football alums; the moment of silence; the grace of interim coach Tom Bradley and equanimity of new PSU president Rodney Erickson - both thrust into the most difficult of circumstances, no warning, go! - the Blue-Out crowd to raise awareness of child abuse and for the alleged victims of Jerry Sandusky; the singing of the alma mater; a clean, competitive, hard-fought game; emotions released with cheers; and ...
And of course there was the elephant not in the room: Joe Paterno. Never has the absence of one been so obvious in a gathering of 110,000.
Not since 1949 had Penn State played a game without Paterno on the coaching staff. He had been the PSU head coach for three seasons when man landed on the moon. He was a genuine, living, breathing American icon, for all the right reasons.
There's little to add here, now, about Paterno. It is profoundly, monumentally sad. Fired Wednesday by the Board of Trustees along with president Graham Spanier, casualties of the scandal, their actions or lack thereof in question. Paterno's exalted reputation in tatters for the moment, perhaps permanently destroyed, pending the results of PSU's investigation and the Sandusky trial. Time will tell.
(UPDATE: Apparently it wasn't all good outside Beaver Stadium. One man holding signs saying things such as "Don't be fooled, they all knew. Tom Bradley, everyone must go,'' reportedly was subjected to verbal abuse, threats and beer dousings.)
Another vigil was held after the game, just as there had been on Friday night, when thousands upon thousands of candles glowed upon Old Main.
We will all remember. How could we ever forget?
Thankfully, one memory of this week won't be entirely awful. Penn State rose to the occasion. Of course it did.
But there are no illusions. Penn State football will never be the same. Not with so many victims of such horrific crimes.