Monday, November 14, 2011

When the Outcome Truly Doesn't Matter

With all due respect to Herm Edwards, who won and who lost on Saturday in Beaver Stadium didn't matter all that much. It wasn't about Nebraska winning or Penn State losing 17-14, wasn't about the Big Ten championship game race, wasn't about Joe Paterno or a scandal or even really a football game.

Saturday wasn't about any of that. No, Saturday was about a community of devastated people coming together to honor victims, raise awareness and start the healing process for all those affected by this inconceivable tragedy.

Many people thought Penn State should cancel the game and perhaps the remainder of its season. I'm glad my alma mater didn't, because then I would have never experienced one of the most touching demonstrations I've ever been a part of.

When I arrived in State College with a longtime friend and college roommate and my father, I had no idea what to expect. As it turned out, the tailgaters were still there, the fans still wearing their Penn State colors, and it looked like any other Penn State home game from the past six decades. But it didn't feel the same, because it wasn't the same.

There was almost an eery silence — a remarkably subdued atmosphere. I've been going to games at Beaver Stadium since I was 6 years old, and it's never been quieter or more reserved outside, especially on such an unseasonably gorgeous November afternoon in the middle of Pennsylvania.

And yet, the people did not stay away. In fact, I met up with several friends I had not even seen since college and did not even know would be there, embracing each other with hugs and well wishes. It has been a difficult week for those of us in the Penn State family — a difficulty that pales in comparison to the difficulties the victims have faced. We needed the support and the love of each other to confront it and begin the healing process.

That's exactly what happened. It didn't matter that Penn State missed opportunities and fell behind 17-0. It didn't matter that Matt McGloin couldn't get anything going through the air or that Penn State lost its first conference game. All that mattered is that for four hours, the individuals who make up the university — along with the countless Nebraska supporters who were nothing but respectful all game long — came together to show we are not shying away from our community.

The student section has never been fuller from kickoff to well after the final seconds had ticked off the clock, and a stadium has never been more emotional. The chants were chilling, louder than I've ever heard them. And I'd be lying if I said I've ever been more emotional during a game.

Sure, there were the expected yet nevertheless disappointing chants for the beleaguered coach by students, but they were few and far between. The biggest, most uproarious chants were us alumni and students proclaiming "We Are, Penn State" and we are still standing. Beaver Stadium was packed, and not a soul left early. The players were greeted with a rousing standing ovation before and especially after the game. And the community came together for itself and especially for the victims.

The stadium was filled with blue to raise awareness, and to date, nearly a half million dollars has been raised by students, alumni and supporters and awarded to child protection and rape prevention charities. Now more than ever, Penn State is determined to do good.

It was cathartic. It was touching. And while it will never begin to make up for all the horrors that took place, it was a step in the right direction. No one will ever look at Penn State the same again. We are not asking anyone to.

What we are asking is that everyone, everywhere joins in helping us all move forward and do everything in our power to make the world a better and safer place. This was bigger than the outcome of a game. Truth is, it's bigger than Penn State. It's about humanity demanding better from itself. And there's no better way than coming together to work toward that goal.

That happened Saturday afternoon in Beaver Stadium, and I hope and pray it happens again and again and again all across the world.

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