The LuLac Edition #2276, November 25th, 2012
OF UNDERDOGS AND FOOTBALL
One of the best things about sports is the drama. Sports is the ultimate reality show. Sports will never get old, sports will always give you a surprise. This year, sports in college football was measured by successes of two iconic programs. Two football programs which used to face each other. The two programs that surprised and delighted us this year was Penn State and Notre Dame. I have never been a big follower of College Football My favorite venue was the NFL. But if you were a sports fan growing up in Northeastern Pennsylvania, you had to have a working knowledge of Penn State and Notre Dame. Growing up, those two franchises were always on my radar especially when I attended St. John the Evangelist High School in the early 70s. Being from Pittston, the pride of the Irish and the drafting of hometown hero Jimmy Cefalo made it mandatory for you to follow these teams. So that said, it was good to see both teams rebound to heights not imagined this time last year.
PENN STATE: After the drama of the Sandusky arrest and conviction, the booting of Joe Paterno as head coach, his death and then the ignominious end to his public veneration, Penn State was at its lowest ebb. Some players defected, others stayed. An NFL Assistant Coach was hired to replace the sainted Paterno. Bill O’Brien came in being his own man but never ever forgetting where the future f Penn State was, in the players who had stayed. He chose to give them the recognition by placing their names on the back of those uniforms. After a disastrous start, Penn State played beyond its potential. Even facing a steam roller like Ohio State, Penn State played with a focused abandon that was rarely seen in the staid, regimented Paterno regime. O’Brien brought the team as well as the student body who cheered for them back to not only respectability but hope for its future. O’Brien’s work and the dedication of the team to move forward went a long way toward erasing the gloom and doom over the campus. The stain of what Jerry Sandusky did will never leave Happy Valley but the way this team and coaching staff conducted itself along with their 8-4 season will put those sins further in the rear view mirror than if there was no season or one with a bad record. This year proved that someone corruptible like Sandusky could be relegated to the hell that he deserves and that the irreplaceable like Paterno, while celebrated for his good works and deeds, could also be replaced.
NOTRE DAME If Notre Dame was not America’s team on the scholastic level, it was pretty darn close, Notre Dame has been a presence and a legend since the early part of the 20th century. The movies, the personalities, the larger than life personalities that populated the campus green will always be legend. But like all legends, sometimes they tend to get threadbare. And the Notre Dame brand has been that for at least the last twenty five years. The last time Notre Dame was a national championship game was when Lou Holtz was the coach. That was late 1988. A majority of the people I work with weren’t even born then. Te last 25 years showed some promise but it never was a potential that was truly met. Bob Davey, Tyrone Willingham, Charlie Weiss and the non starting of George O’Leary and the interim status of Kent Baer wore down the luster of the job. By the time Cincinnati coach Brian Kelley took over, the Irish gem was not shining but with a dull hue. It is true that most of the recruits on this team were men picked by Charlie Weiss but it was Kelly who revamped the entire culture of Notre Dame. It started in the locker room, then the training room, then in the way the players were treated in off hours. For the first time in history, there was a training table for meals. There was consistency and more accountability. And in this third year of Kelley’s reign, a bit of Irish luck like the Pittsburgh game. Last night Notre Dame won a spot to play in the National Championship game. They had a perfect season. Unlike Penn State and the other perfect team, Ohio State, no scandal was attached to the season. Notre Dame players were gaming for a piece of that illustrious history. The fight for that will come on January 7th, 2013. That’s six weeks out, long enough for fans here and across America to thump their chests just a bit. Just like the old days.