In January 2012 I was accepted to Penn State main campus for summer session, and it was arguably one of the happiest days of my life. Penn State was my dream school. Yes, I knew of everything going on from the Sandusky scandal to Joe Paterno’s firing (and eventual passing), but that never influenced my decision. I knew I wanted to go to Penn State no matter what.
It wasn’t until summer session actually started until I realized how much the scandal was going to impact Penn State. The NCAA sanctions were harsh. Students transferred out, and some of our football players did too in hopes of playing for a “better” team. The Joe Paterno statue was taken down, and Bill O’Brien became our new head coach. Everything that Penn Staters had known and loved for the past few decades had been ripped out from under them and replaced. It was a difficult time for everyone.
I was reminded every day that Penn State would “never be the same” after everything that had happened. I was accused of “supporting child abuse” for attending what was once one of the most respected universities in the nation. I was reminded I would never get to see a bowl game during all four years of my undergraduate experience. I was told we probably wouldn’t win many (if any) other games, either.
However, none of that ever made me question my decision to go to Penn State. Four years ago, Penn State students like myself stood behind our university. Bill O’Brien and the football players that stuck with our team in 2012 (and in the years after) rebuilt our program from the bottom up – literally. A school that knew nothing but winning quickly learned how to lose. But, we didn’t give up, and it paid off.
In 2013, Penn State beat Michigan 43-40 after four overtimes. When the NCAA sanctions were lifted, we played in the Pinstripe Bowl in 2014 and beat Boston College in overtime. Then in 2015, we qualified for the TaxSlayer Bowl and held our own against Georgia, despite falling 24-17. Those accomplishments were huge in themselves, but Saturday proved that it didn’t stop there.
Penn State’s win against Ohio State shows just how much our program has transformed in four years. If you would have asked anyone in 2012 if they thought Saturday’s win was possible, they would have laughed in your face. Hell, people joked about us losing even during the hours leading up to the game, and it wasn’t without good reason – Ohio State was undefeated.
This win means everything, but for different reasons than most outsiders may think.
The win isn’t just about beating an undefeated Ohio State during the White Out game. It’s not about how many games we’ve won or lost this season. Prior to 2012, these things might have been extremely important, but it’s not just about that anymore. Anyone who supports Penn State football knows that this win exemplifies how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go. It comes down to our players who stayed when they didn’t have to, and the coaches that pushed our team beyond what anyone had ever thought was possible. It comes down to the fans who went to every game, rain or shine, win or lose, sanctions in place and all.
For the first time since 2011, we’re ranked #24 in the nation. The number itself means so little because the overall meaning behind the ranking is indescribable. Penn Staters knew we had it in us to make a comeback, but not everyone else did. That is quickly about to change.
We are, and always have been, proud. We are Penn State football.