Posted Jan. 8, 2015

Oct 24, 2011

Thoughts From The Valley: A Very Good Kind of Nervousness



HOW I AM FEELING: Nervous. Yes, for the first time all season, I feel nervous. Nervous because, all at once, and after that highly entertaining (as predicted) 34-24 win over Northwestern on Saturday night, My Beloved Penn State Nittany Lions are sitting alone atop the Leaders Division, with nothing standing between them and the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game except for ... well, games against Illinois, Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin. The stakes are, all of a sudden, high. I mean, really, they are. How did this happen? Don't know. Don't care. Just happy to be here. Just happy to be nervous again. Just happy to have a team worthy of being nervous about. More on this below.

WHAT I AM DRINKING: Weyerbacher Brewing Co. Blithering Idiot Barleywine Ale. Yes, dear friends, it is a beer so incredibly strong that it can not actually be called a beer at all. Yeah, like I said, I'm nervous

WHAT I AM LISTENING TO: The voice in my head telling me to enjoy life more and worry about life less (and for the record, no, I am not "worried" about My Beloved Penn State Nittany Lions; that football-centric nervousness is a healthy nervousness, while this other realm of worry is most certainly not). The voice is not nearly convincing enough, however. At times, I swim in a veritable vortex of self-created stress. At other times (i.e., weekends), I am perfectly content. Is this what life is? Shall I simplify? Shall I refocus? Or shall I simply endure?

VILLA UPDATE: The World's Most Beautifully Named Football Club suffered the great indignity of a 2-1 loss to local rival West Bromwich Albion on Saturday. And while any loss in the West Midlands Derby is a bad loss, this particular loss in the West Midlands Derby was even more depressing than usual, because this particular loss was Villa's first-ever home defeat to the Albion in the Premier League Era. Villa somehow remains in the top half of the table but things certainly don't look too promising in Birmingham. Another protracted battle against relegation is in the offing. Up The Villa.


It is undeniable and true: One cannot fully enjoy a sport—and I mean, any sport—unless one has a proverbial horse in the proverbial race.

The reason, of course, is simple: If don't have something or someone to root for, if you cannot dream of What May Be, if you feel as though the games themselves carry no weight at all, well, then the essence of sport—of competition itself—is all but lost. These games we watch are wonderful games indeed, but they cannot exist in a vacuum; or perhaps, they cannot exist in any meaningful way in a vacuum.

Which is why, for the first seven weeks or so of this 2011 college football regular season, my enjoyment of Our Great Game was fairly limited. Because despite the fact that My Beloved Nittany Lions were winning games, Yours Truly did not actually believe that those wins meant anything. I was convinced, you see, that my Nits were winning with smoke and mirrors, that the victories were less the result of the Nits being quite good and more the result of our opponents (with the notable exception of Alabama, of course) being quite bad, that the string of success would come to an end in fairly spectacular fashion.

In other words, I did not believe. Not one bit.

But this past Saturday night, something changed.

As I sat there at TCFA Headquarters, taking in the Penn State-Northwestern game with my parents and Young Jack, a switch was flipped; it was The Proverbial Switch Of My Fandom. And the moment it clicked into that "on" position, well, I believed again.

More to the point, I was nervous again—nervous, you see, because I suddenly cared again. I cared about the outcome of that game in Evanston, because I cared, for the first time all season, about the season itself.

I don't know why it took me so long. But in the end, I suppose that's pretty much irrelevant.

Because while I may not have truly cared before, I do care now.

My Nits are 7-1. They are in first place in the Leaders Division. They have every opportunity before them. They control their own destiny.

And, yeah, all of a sudden, I believe that destiny could be a great destiny indeed.


THREE: Three great observations from My Father And Mentor, Patrick James Hyland Sr., about Illinois coach Ron Zook during our marathon game-watching session this past weekend: 1. Ron Zook looks perpetually confused. 2. Ron Zook wears oddly oversized headphones; it's almost as if Illinois cannot afford new headphones and therefore continues to use the same ones they had back with Ron Turner was coach; 3. After every touchdown, Ron Zook makes it a point to hold up one finger in the air, informing his team that they should go for the extra point, and not the two point conversion. Zook does this no matter the situation; his team could be trailing by 50 or winning by 50. No matter, he still holds up that finger. It is great entertainment.

TWO: Though I am firmly on the record as saying that Michigan coach Brady Hoke will, indeed, eventually replace Surefire TCFA Hall of Famer Denard Robinson with Devin Gardner, Hoke and his lieutenants continue to deny that they're even considering putting The Mighty Denard on the bench. The most forceful denial has come from offensive coordinator Al Borges, the man who continues to try to force Denard to be Non-Denard-like, who said last week that the idea of sitting Denard was "ridiculous." He added: "I don't claim to be the smartest guy in the world, but I'm not taking 300 yards of total offense out of the game." YOU SIR ARE LYING.

ONE: With their 59-38 win over North Carolina on Saturday, the Clemson Tigers once again proved themselves to be The Most Entertaining Team In All Of College Football. This is not only because coach Dabo Swinney is a fireball of mostly unhinged Southern energy. It is not only because the Clemson offense, led by quarterback Tahj Boyd and freshman sensation Sammy Watkins, is flat-out electric and darn near unstoppable. It also because, well, Clemson's defense is just bad enough to ensure that any Clemson game will feature feature An Avalanche of Scoring Chances. Indeed, through Week 8, the Tigers rank 12th in the nation with 40.6 points per game. But they also rank 51st in points allowed, giving up 25.0 per game. I mean, Wofford scored 27 on these games. Maryland put up 56. A winning formula? Perhaps not. But it certainly worked for Auburn last season.

TOUCHDOWN:Oklahoma's loss to Texas Tech and Wisconsin's loss to Michigan State have opened up the very real possibility of an LSU-Alabama rematch in The Mythical National Championship Game. A very real possibility indeed. Here's all that would need to happen: Losses by Oklahoma State (still has to play Oklahoma), Stanford (still has to play Oregon) and Clemson (still has to play South Carolina and Wake Forest); and, of course, an undefeated stretch run for both the winner and loser of the 'Bama-LSU game on Nov. 5. And while it would certainly be patently unfair to see an undefeated Boise team, for instance, blocked out of the title game in favor of a team that did not even win its own division, the powers-that-be in college football (read: ESPN and the entire South) will make a serious public relations push for the 'Bama-LSU rematch. There are two reasons here: First, it would be great for television ratings. Second, there are enough people of influence out there who really believe that the SEC is so far superior to the rest of the nation that anything but an LSU-'Bama rematch would be, in a word, wrong. Make no mistake, folks: Those powers-that-be will push, and push very hard, to make this happen. And there ain't nothing you or I or anybody else can do about it.

OVERTIME: Thoughts on the column? Thoughts on the podcast? Any advice for how Your Editor can better achieve a feeling of peace and tranquility? Well, drop us a note at or

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