COLUMBUS, Ohio - These last two tumultuous weeks have robbed Penn State of its dignity, permanently tarnished the reputation of Jerry Sandusky, cleared out the offices of the university president and legendary head football coach and put a new athletic director in charge of a national search.
But it has not robbed the Nittany Lions - or their interim head coach - of their heart.
And boy was that apparent here Saturday afternoon when, given the circumstances, Penn State turned in one of the gutsiest performances in its history by beating Ohio State, 20-14, before 105,493 in the Horseshoe.
The Associated Press
Tom Bradley directs the Lions in the first half.
"I don' t think any team in the history of major college football has been through so much in such a short time period," Tom Bradley said. "But they've hung in there and fought through it. I couldn't be prouder of them."
Bradley, now on the job all of 11 days in the wake of Joe Paterno's firing, "challenged" the team before the game "to show a lot of character and resolve."
He knew success at Ohio State has been minimal. He reminded the Lions that they won here in 1978 and in 2008 and asked the team, "I want to know how you're going to be remembered."
And then it came to back up his words.
The Lions, up 20-14 midway through the third quarter, faced fourth-and-goal from the Ohio State 1 after three unsuccessful cracks. A field goal would have put Penn State up two scores.
"I had told them we were going for the win the whole way," Bradley said. "Normally, we probably would have kicked it, but I felt that would have been the wrong decision because before the game, I asked those guys to go to the wall."
So, he quickly decided, "I'm going to the wall."
Silas Redd was stopped short, but the Lions were not discouraged.
"That was tough," offensive captain and tackle Quinn Barham said. "It slowed our momentum down, but it didn't knock our confidence down."
That resolve came from the top, and it's a key reason maybe the biggest reason that Penn State (9-2 overall, 6-1 in the Big Ten) shifted the black cloud from this season and will now head to Wisconsin with a berth in the conference's first championship game on the line.
That Bradley went for it on fourth down at the 1 is only part of the decisive leadership he's provided.
It took him basically one day to stamp Matt McGloin as the starting quarterback and, after jumping over to the offensive side for the first time since he was wide receivers coach in 1987, he sanctioned a wildcat offense geared to take advantage of some of the Lions' young skill players.
Off the field, he's handled all the non-football questions like a master. And in the Paterno mold, he's continued to stress classwork, chide the players to trim their mustaches and beards and remove their headsets in public.
"Everything I've asked them to do they've done, and I attribute that to the great leadership of our senior class," Bradley said.
"We're building every single day," senior safety and captain Drew Astorino said. "We're a big-time program. A lot of people watch us, and even now the world's watching. We've just got to play how we always play and be who we really are. We just have to be Penn State, and I think we did that."
There were a lot of questions about emotions Saturday the emotions accompanying a big win in hostile territory, the emotions of the past two weeks and the emotions of learning on Friday that Paterno has been diagnosed with cancer.
"It's been rough on all of us," Barham said. "We're trying to put everything behind us and concentrate on football."
For three hours Saturday, the game was a welcome relief that because of the Nittany Lions' character and an interim head coach who cannot possibly be doing a better job, brought an equally welcome outcome.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.