Throughout my life, people have complained that my standards are too high, that I hold myself and others to standards that can’t possibly be met. It’s true. I’m always striving for better. I’ve never, ever been content with mediocrity. I feel like everyone can try harder and do better, including and especially me. I know perfection is unattainable but as long as close-to-perfect is within reach, I’ll work for it. My best is good enough for today, but tomorrow I must be better. I wonder if that part of my personality is at all responsible for drawing me toward Penn State, the university with such high ideals that it’s almost impossible not to endeavor for the best version of yourself.
Alumni, students, athletes– we all have such high standards for ourselves and each other. We truly believe deep down in our hearts that we’re destined to do great things and we possess that vital will to prepare. It’s the quality that makes us a world class university. It’s the reason why we can call ourselves unrivaled. We are always learning, always improving, always aspiring. Our high standards propel us ever onward, mostly upward, but sometimes, heartbreakingly, not. Sometimes we feel like we’ve stalled, or worse. Sometimes our standards are impossible to reach.
Just look at this season. We’re 10-2 for the second straight season and somehow it feels disappointing. We ended 2016 with 11 wins and so naturally we expect more. Ok we did that, now we can do better. Now we can work harder, get stronger, play smarter, and win more convincingly. And we will do all of that while continuing to boast one of the highest graduation rates in the country and displaying ceaseless maturity and integrity. We were so near the top last year that this season perfection appeared attainable. Planets aligned, hard work endured, and magic awaited.
Where last season felt like a crescendo, this one feels like a decrescendo. And yet, if we step back and look with clear eyes, there is literally nothing to be upset about except the failure of our own impossible standards. We were 7-6 in 2015, improved to 11-3 in 2016, and attained another 10 wins so far this season. We’ve won 14 straight games at home. We’ve averaged over 40 points per game. We’re ranked in the top ten. We have a top-5 ranked recruiting class coming and a major bowl game on the horizon. Our team is really very good. One of the best of the season.
Still, we can’t seem to shake those blasted four points. Penn State fans have seemingly divided into one of two camps: either you’re complaining about losing and proclaiming the causalities, or you’re putting on the smile and touting our accomplishments. Both reactions are a reflection of our shared high expectations. We may respond differently but we all just wanted that elusive perfect season.
And this is where I find myself, probably more than necessary, sitting with how to frame the failed expectations. Will I pick apart the season and look for the necessary areas of improvement? Will I turn my focus to the record-breaking accomplishments? Will I rail against the ridiculous college football “experts” and the unfairness of the ranking/playoff/voting system? Will I take stock of the foundation we’re building and dream of the future? How will you choose to remember this season?
Whatever the answer is, I hope the magic of this team will stick with us. Barkley’s breakaways, leaps, near flights, and even a touchdown pass. McSorley running, throwing, or body surfing into the end zone. Juwan Johnson’s unbelievable game winning catch against Iowa. Mike Gesicki climbing a ladder to bring passes out of the sky and literally leaping over his teammates in celebration. Tommy Stevens, the highly versatile backup with an already impressive record of his own. The McPhearson brothers combining forces for a takeaway. And so, so many more magical moments that I hope you’ll list in the comments so we can reminisce together. We did deserve the title of most entertaining team to watch, didn’t we?
I’m glad we get one more chance to watch this team play together. One more glimpse of the magic before we dream new expectations. It’s not a perfect season; it’s a season to cherish.