Penn St – Dreams of a Boy, Drive of a Man
I am a Penn Stater, not by education or experience but by blood and PRIDE. Both of my parents played volleyball at Penn State, and the first roof over my head was kept by a non-football coach who would go on to be the greatest his sport would ever know.
In the Panko house, Penn State, specifically Penn State Football, was a religion. My brother and I would have given a testicle to play football at Penn State. Growing up in Indiana in a pre-cable sports and constant news cycle world, University Park, PA was a celestial place that seemed a million miles away. It was a place where legendary, near mythical men roamed sidelines. Heroes were so dominant they earned their own nickname(s). Athletes could be gentlemen off the field and unstoppable, destructive forces on, and the team had a WAY, the Penn State Way, and nobody else had it or anything that resembled it.
There was always a feeling of destiny growing up; Penn State won National Championships the years my brother and I were born – 1982 and 1986. For the first part of my life, I had no idea what conference football was all about, the Nittany Lions were Independent, and none were worthy of their company. No team has produced emotion like Penn State. I had my heart ripped out in 1995, when a 12-0 Penn St. team finished ranked second in the nation – no thanks to a shoddy performance at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington and a come from behind win vs Illinois the next week capped off with Brian Milne’s plunge into the endzone at Memorial Stadium in Champagne. I cried my first time seeing Beaver Stadium in 1997, and have only been more nervous by asking for a marriage blessing than when I introduced myself to Bill Kenney and the late Joe Sarra – former OL and DL coaches, respectively.
My best friend’s dad took me to my first Penn St game at Purdue in 1999, a game between two Top 15 teams, Penn St won 31-25 in the best football game I may ever see in person. The next week, I got to see them win at Illinois on a “recruiting visit” with a couple teammates and saw them in 2000 when they played IU who was led by Antwan Randle-El, at the RCA Dome. In 2003, I got in a fight in the Purdue Student Section when they laughed at the Penn State Drum Major that missed his front flip. The 2005 game against Ohio State is one of my favorites of all time. In 2008, the Plainfield Police showed up on my doorstep during the second half of the Wisconsin comeback on suspicion of domestic abuse due to excessive screaming. I have irritated more people at family gatherings by standing in front of the TV (I haven’t sat for a game in about 10 years) and isolating myself in the basement so I can coach. I can’t wait to see my first game in Happy Valley, but will do so only when I have the proper company.
The Penn State Way has taken a pounding over the last nine months (understandably so), but I am more passionate about it than ever. The Penn State Way was taught, preached, by men who apparently did not abide by the virtues of which they spoke. Blame them. Do not blame what their players created, save for one who will probably take his last breath wishing he had run into a shower willing to beat up or take a beating to stop a child molester. This does not mean the Penn State Way is a fraud. It is anything but. Its produced CEO’s, lawyers, business owners, Hall of Famers, front office personnel, major college football’s highest graduation rates, and Academic All-Americas. It has also manufactured the most enviable coaching tree in sports.
It was presumed the Penn State Way was the product of one man, that’s false. The Penn State Way is the culture created by the young men, their families, and the fans that bought into and abide by leading a life of the most exceptional standards with the greatest combination of passion, conviction, and emotion any mortal can fathom.
Unfortunately the Penn State Way, much like the American Dream, was hijacked by so-called leaders at the top. The people at the very top perverted it for purposes of greed. No doubt those men and the two men upon whose shoulders this squarely rests – College Football’s Winningest Coach and his top assistant will have to justify their actions to the Almighty.
As a fan, there was heartbreak. As a father, there was rage for a man who would prey upon children, and one can wonder if the deed gets repaid when he is mistaken for one of the 72 virgins. Up until the last nine months, JoePa was one of the five individuals living or not with whom I wanted to break bread. So as to leave none hanging the other four were Washington, Lincoln, Reagan, and my maternal namesake. That opinion has now changed and with one less we would still have a hell of a meal.
Man disappoints, has since Eden, and will until the Second Coming. What can be taken from all of this is that no one man is bigger than any dream, feat, culture, attitude, or movement. It takes an entire group to move it forward, advance and progress it, and generations to take it to the next level. I feel more overcome with emotion than I will ever show when I hear athletes and parents say “CARNIVORE,” because I know they believe, they buy in, and they want to be part of something greater.
As for the Program, it will press on. It will take its bumps, but the last three days have shown that there is no better coach suited to face this threshold of sports hell like Bill O’Brien, his Lions, and the passionate fans of Nittany Nation. I agree with Tom Lemming when he writes Penn St will return to greatness faster than most think. I have never been and never will be cliché but I am proud to say “We Are…” and even prouder to say, “We Still Are…”
Adrian Panko, Chief Steward of the American Dream