What does “We are Penn State” mean in the summer of 2012?
The first Penn State memory I have was the stein. It proudly sat on the bookshelf in the family room. “Class of 1972,” it read. I had no idea what the words meant…but somehow I knew what the stein itself meant.
My next memory? January 2, 1987. The Fiesta Bowl. Second time I ever saw my dad get teary. (The first was when he picked me up at Kindergarden to tell me my grandfather had died.)
After that? A graduation gift. My acceptance letter from Penn State, framed. On the back, in my father’s inscrutable handwriting:
“I am so proud of you.”
There were a lot of other things. Meeting and falling in love with my wife. Proposing on the lawn at Old Main. Celebrating at The Diner with a pound of cheese fries. Drunkenly predicting that Penn State would return to glory in 2005 on the heels of a dismal 4–7 season. (I still have the index card I wrote it on to prove it.) Dressing my son as the Nittany Lion for Halloween. Hoping I could share what I loved so much about my alma mater… and that he’d want to continue my family’s legacy.
And I don’t know how much of that stuff is gone now.
One other thing, seemingly so inoccuous at the time, sticks out now. I worked as a host in a chain seafood restaurant just outside of town. A coworker taps me on the shoulder. “Holy shit, that’s Jerry Sandusky.” He asks for a table for two. The wait was an hour, maybe more.
He got the next table that opened up. He was very appreciative. I felt so cool.
And now, not to go all Rick Reilly on you, but I feel like an idiot. Part of the problem, right? The football-first culture?
So now I’ve got all these memories. I’ve got a football autographed by none other than Joe Paterno himself. And no idea what to do with any of it.
Originally published on July 23, 2012.