Posted Jan. 8, 2015

Oct 3, 2011

Thoughts From The Valley: Honesty and Joylessness



HOW I AM FEELING: Honest. I am feeling honest. And because I am feeling honest, I can admit this: The state of the Penn State football program—the very treading-waterness that we are now enduring as The Seeminginly Endless Joe Paterno Era painfully grinds on—is beginning to affect my enjoyment of the game of college football itself. I am finding harder to care as much, and this does pain me deeply. But the reality is, when it comes to any sport, you need to have a horse in the race to really, really care. And though I really, really want to really, really care—though I truly miss that life-and-death feeling that I used to have, even a couple years back, on the day of every Penn State football game—the fact is that I don’t really have a horse in the proverbial college football race. Not anymore. Because my horse, as currently constructed, isn’t built to win. And so I am left to endure games like the one I endured on Saturday: A 16-10 win over a truly awful Indiana team—a win that was not wrapped up until late into the fourth quarter. More on this in a bit.

WHAT I AM DRINKING: Bear Republic IPA. I was once loyal to the gloriously transcendent Victory Hop Devil. It was my go-to beer. My Saturday special. My autumnal brew. My favorite IPA. But while I still enjoy my Hop Devil, and while I still believe Victory to be one of the finest breweries in Our Great Land, Hop Devil and I are now enjoying what might be termed an open relationship. I am allowed to sample other IPAs. And among those other IPAs, Bear Republic’s stands out as one of the best. A really fine beer with a really unique taste, even though it's brewed in California.

WHAT I AM LISTENING TO: Drive By Truckers. Decoration Day. I am doing my best to recapture the college football feeling I had back in 2005. So I’m playing music I listened to in 2005. My-oh-my what an album this was. And my-oh-my am I getting old.

VILLA UPDATE: The World’s Most Beautifully Named Football Club finally played a game that did not end in a draw this weekend; the Villains’ 2-0 win over Wigan gave them three (much-deserved) points and, by weekend’s end, had them sitting sixth in the league table. European qualification in sight. Viva Gabby Agbonlahor.


The text messages don't arrive with quite the same frequency they used to.

The phone calls hardly come at all.

There is no pre-game commiseration. No postgame post-mortem.

There is no buzz.

There is no energy.

There is no joy.

There is no hope.

This, my friends, is the state of the Penn State football program as of Oct. 3, 2011. It is a program that lacks direction. It is a program that lacks leadership. It is a program with no clear goals, with no real coach, with no defined sense of self.

It may be a small sampling, yes. It may not be representative of the entire Penn State fan base (though I think it is). It may not mean much to the powers-that-be (and bean counters) up in Happy Valley. But the reality--my reality, at least--is this: The friends and family that I've shared Penn State football with over the past 20 years or so don't care as much as they used to.

The losses don't sting as much. The wins elicit little feeling beyond slight relief. There is no sense of urgency. No sense that we are part of something--that something being The Larger National College Football Picture.

My friends and family don't watch the games as closely (if they watch at all). They don't go as many games. They don't make the effort to fly their Penn State flags on each and every gameday. They don't muster the energy to defend the program from attacks from our rivals. They don't enjoy Saturdays as much as they used to--back when the program was a real program, back when we were in the mix, back when winning was not only expected, but demanded.

Alas, those days are passed, and  Penn State’s football program is now a shell of itself--a mirage, coasting on reputation, on facade, on history.

This program isn't about winning anymore. It's about one man and one man only. It's been that way for a while, actually.

But only now--only in this, the college footballing year of 2011--are Penn State fans starting to tune out. They've had enough. They're turning away. They are finding better ways to spend their Saturdays. They are finding better ways to spend their hard-earned money, too.

And you know what? I don't blame them.


THREE: The Clemson Tigers are now 5-0 after a stunningly thorough 23-3 win over Virginia Tech at Lane Stadium on Saturday night. The win was the Tigers’ third straight over a ranked opponent, as they had previously beaten both Auburn (who, it should be noted, did in fact upset South Carolina on Saturday, just as Yours Truly predicted during last week’s TCFA Podcast) and Florida State. I mean, there’s no getting around it: Clemson is having itself a grand ole footballin’ year. And though the easy thing to do here would be to simply assume that disaster is right around the corner—that the Tigers will revert to their historic mean and completely collapse down the stretch—I am going to go ahead and say this particular bunch of Tigers is, as they say, “for real.” This is the best team in the ACC.

TWO: The sharps knew it. I am guessing plenty of Big Ten insiders knew it. And, yes, I knew it, too. “It,” in this particular case, is this: Nebraska never really had a chance against Wisconsin this week (they lost, 48-17). Indeed, I must say I found it incredibly odd that so many people had heaped such high expectations upon Huskers in this, their debut season in Jim Delany’s Big Ten. Beyond the fact that the offense has nothing but question marks surrounding Taylor Martinez, and beyond the fact that the much-ballyhooed Blackshirts aren’t exactly Blackshirt-worthy these days, there is also the reality that the Huskers are playing a whole bunch of teams that they’ve rarely and/or never played before, and while that may seem to be not that a big a deal, let me assure you, it most certainly is. Penn State learned that lesson in 1993. And Nebraska will learn it in 2011. This Husker team will lose at least four games. And they’re bound to get blown out again.

ONE: All due respect to Andrew Luck. All due respect to Denard Robinson. All due respect to Robert Griffin III. Bu if I had a Suzuki Heisman vote, and if I had to vote today, that vote would go to Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson. The numbers are phenomenal, yes. But the important issue is this: Wilson has transformed the Badgers from a good team into a national title contender. He is the proverbial Ron Dayne. The proverbial Archie Manning. The proverbial Michael Vick. And he very well could take the Badgers this season to heights they’ve never seen before. If you haven’t seen this kid play yet, you owe it to yourself to make an effort to soon. He is the best player in the country.

TOUCHDOWN: The best writer on the Penn State football beat, as I’ve said many times, is David Jones of the Harrisburg Patriot-News. He is honest. He is fair. He is unbiased. He can actually write. And he writes what needs to be written. Which brings us to his Sunday column this week, written in the wake of the Nits’ less-than-enthusiastic performance against Indiana. Wrote Jones: “I’m sure it’s true that, at his advanced age, Joe Paterno enjoys some perspective on life and the relative value of its events that many of us do not. And that’s a good thing. Nobody should let the ebb and flow of a job affect the enjoyment of family, of good friends, of whatever faith one chooses. Those are the important things. That said, I saw something in Paterno on Saturday afternoon following his football team’s 16-10 defeat of Indiana that I didn’t used to see — acceptance of mediocrity. Actually, that’s being kind. While the Memorial Stadium scoreboard reflected a Big Ten road win, an accomplishment almost never to be judged too harshly, this was an exception. The Indiana Hoosiers against which Penn State barely survived are a bad football team. Not just by league standards, but by national ones and by historical ones. … And they hung right with Penn State. Do not be fooled by the half-hearted refrain from a dwindling number of PSU apologists that the Nittany Lions 'shot themselves in the foot' and that’s why the game was close. That isn’t really why. The underlying reason is that a sense that 'good enough is good enough' has pervaded the program.” YEP.

OVERTIME: The TCFA Podcast continues its march toward General Audio Awesomeness. So tune in, won't you? New podcast posts every Friday. It's an hour of college football heaven.  And as always, we welcome your comments, criticisms and more at

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