They say time heals all wounds and what I witnessed on Christmas Eve was proof. Don’t worry friends, there is a Penn State twist in this story. I, like all of you, woke up on Christmas Eve to the news that Matt Millen was given a new heart. For those that don’t know, Millen, the former linebacker, turned BTN play-by-play guy, has been dealing with a rare form of amyloidosis that has slowly ravaged his heart over the past few years. The outpouring of love from the Penn State faithful after his surgery was beyond heartwarming and a reminder of what makes us as Nittany Lions special.
This is Matt Millen, one-half of the salt and pepper duo (along with Bruce Clark) that terrorized opposing offenses in the late-70s; a four-time Super Bowl champ with four different teams; failed general manager of the Detroit Lions; and unfortunately, a man many of us used as a scapegoat following the horrible events of 2011 for things he did or did not say on air as an ESPN correspondent. Personally, what I saw was a grown man crying on live television over allegations against a coach and a school he clearly loved. Not just any old grown man crying, but as ferocious a linebacker, the game of football has ever seen.
For whatever reason, over the past six or seven years, whenever his name is mentioned, it is us that follows with a snide remark and snarky comment over the way he handled a situation that none of us knew how to handle at the time. By all accounts, in the aftermath that followed, Matt Millen was as hands-on with this football program as any Letterman out there. He was reportedly good friends with Bill O’Brien and was often seen as a presence on the practice field during BOB’s tenure. When Saquon Barkley came along, it was Matt Millen, the proud and fellow Whitehall High alum, forewarning us as #26 shredded the Buffalo defense in the pouring rain early on in his freshman campaign. As unbiased as Millen was required to be on-air, you could feel the Penn State pride beaming from his heart, the one that eventually failed him, that Barkley was following in his footsteps as a Nittany Lion.
In short, all he ever seemed to do was bleed Blue and White, and yet, as late as this past September he was once again getting slammed on social media by many of us for admitting on air he was pulling for the massive underdog App State to pull off the upset as they gave our Nittany Lions all they could handle in the home opener. Despite the fact that we all knew full well by then that Matt Millen was working on borrowed time as he waited for a new heart, he once again caught our wrath on his broad football shoulders. If anyone can take it, it is Matt and for sure he did. Millen didn’t make it much further this year as he was eventually forced out of the booth and has been waiting in a Newark hospital for his new heart ever since.
As word got out that he had been relegated to a hospital bed, our tune towards Matt Millen slowly began to change and on Christmas Eve morning, it all culminated in an outpouring of love, like only Nittany Nation can give, when news broke that he had been matched with a donor and several hours later, the transplant was considered a success. As our current squad is preparing for their New Year’s clash with Kentucky, and the Penn State rigs are all packed up and rolling down I-95 to Orlando, the Nittany news has been dominated by Lions of long ago. Bill O’Brien made his return to PA to take on the Eagles as head coach of the Houston Texans. On December 21st, we all spent the day recognizing what would have been JoePa’s 92nd birthday and the big, bad, burly linebacker that helped coin LBU finally got his new heart; the greatest Christmas gift of all. Time really does heal all wounds and Matt Millen of all people is living proof. His Nittany Christmas blessing sure did bring a happy ending to 2018!