Oh, the irony. The story I’m about to tell happened almost 20 years ago to the day that ‘Fear the Turtle’ became one of our greatest nightmares. On November 5, 2000, a much younger and far feistier version of myself had second row seats on the 45-yard line as I watched a Rashard Casey interception fall into the waiting arms of a diving Iowa Hawkeye. That dagger in the second overtime was the final nail in our coffin and preserved a 26-23 victory for the visitors. What ensued will forever live deep within my memory. You see, being a die-hard fan, apparently enough was enough and I sprung from my seat in a futile attempt to rally the troops as they headed down the sideline, new owners of a 4-6 overall record with mighty Michigan waiting on deck.
I channeled my rage and met the team at the old cage inside the bowels of Beaver Stadium as the Lions came in through the tunnel. I laid my heart out for all to see as I gave an Oscar-worthy performance that even Knute Rockne would be proud of. As if that wasn’t enough, my day of infamy ended like Rip Engle himself guided me outside to the waiting blue busses for one final tongue lashing before they blew a puff of smoke at me and finally carried our Nittany Lions away.
Looking back on it, I should have lost a tooth or two that fateful day in a not-so Happy Valley. Deep down though, I think they knew my heart was in the right place. 20 years later, wiser, a little more mature, we find ourselves standing in a similar position once again. It’s not often we’re faced with adversity like this (even the events of 2011 couldn’t bring us to our knees) but sure enough, 2020 really does pack a punch and it’s starting to feel like we’re the target all over again! I mean, Maryland didn’t just beat us, we got pummeled on our way to 0-3. I have never been so hungry for turtle soup in my life as I was last weekend. Instead Maryland took the bowl and dumped it on my head; on all of our heads!
In the aftermath, social media turned on James Franklin, myself included, I sheepishly admit. It may not have been a meltdown quite to the degree of the rage that consumed me 20 years ago, but it was rage nonetheless and our head coach was the target. The biggest question beyond X’s and O’s was, ‘Is his heart in it?’ A man we’ve come to know pretty darn well for his passion stood arms-crossed and alone on the sideline as his Nittany Lions hit rock bottom. COVID-19 or not, it was a fair question. With that being said, a deep breath and sense of calm eventually prevailed over pitchforks and anger.
At Tuesday’s press conference he had more questions than answers. The one thing that stuck with me is that he remained adamant that he’d continue to ‘lead with love.’ It’s nothing new and it’s served us all very well throughout his tenure at Penn State. Admittedly, time away from family has taken its toll as has the time spent ensuring his 120 sons are as immune to the ongoing pandemic as possible. As we watch team after team across the country fall victim to outbreaks (including the same Maryland team we just lost to who had to entirely shut down on Wednesday), maybe its time we appreciate the fact our players have remained safe throughout this process.
Lead with love just might take precedence over wins and losses if we stand back and look at the big picture. We will be back someday, all 110K of us screaming our hearts out to Sweet Caroline but until that day, they need our love more than anything, coaches included! After all, times aren’t quite as simple as they were 20 years ago when I let a hard-fought loss get the best of me. As we pay our respects this week on Veteran’s Day, celebrate the 20th anniversary of Adam Taliaferro defying all odds, and mourn the official retirement of Journey Brown, lead with love helps us keep everything in perspective.