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Rudel: Nittany Lions playing for more than themselves

September 1, 2012
By Neil Rudel ( , The Altoona Mirror

UNIVERSITY PARK - Longtime Nittany Lion fans used to joke that God made the sky blue and white for a reason, but since Penn State's world began to collapse in a sickening heap 10 months ago, a pall has hovered over what was once Happy Valley.

It won't totally disappear for many years, if ever, but the dark clouds can start to dissipate as early as this afternoon by opening the 2012 season with a win over Ohio University.

Winning is a long-term cure in making people feel good again, and while NCAA sanctions will likely preclude Penn State from winning at the level its fans had grown accustomed and expected for the better part of the last five-plus decades, no one inside the Beaver Stadium home locker room needs reminded of the role the football team can play in the healing process.

Article Photos

Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Penn State running back Bill Belton is one of three sophomores, along with defensive back Adrian Amos and wide receiver Allen Robinson, who will get the chance today to show off their potential.

"I feel like," junior safety Malcolm Willis said, "it [a win] would do wonders for the community."

On the other hand, a loss to open any year inevitably lets some air out of the balloon. That especially would be the case this year as depression would continue for at least another week and create an immediate uphill grade to even a .500 season.

To that end, because of everything the current players have endured, senior linebacker Gerald Hodges believes today's opener is, "bigger than the national championship or Big Ten championship" in terms of what it means to getting the Nittany Lions' train back on the track emotionally.

"Guys want to get on the field and let it all out," Hodges said.

In that regard, today's game is at least similar to many years past in that anticipation has filled the air.

"You can feel the energy walking through campus, and that's how it's always been," Hodges said. "It's football season."

New coach Bill O'Brien has championed Penn State's one-team motto that spans throughout the athletic department, the student body and the fan base. O'Brien knows the Lions are playing for more than themselves.

"There is a lot of this that is a little bit more than football, and I understand that," he said. "But again, they [players] are just a part of this whole thing. We're just the football program that's trying to be a part of making sure that we go out there and play well but also help the community as much as we possibly can as a part of it."

While embracing the big picture, O'Brien has tried to narrow the focus during fall camp and especially this week.

"As we head into this first game, it's about football. It's about going out there and playing as good as you can," he said.

Unlike the Joe Paterno Era when fans knew what to expect and could often predict the plays, O'Brien's presence and diverse offensive background bring a sense of refreshing intrigue and mystery to a new and welcome chapter of Penn State football.

There will be different formations, names on the jerseys for the first time in school history, some changed warmup music and other subtle pre-game and in-game production tweaks.

It's well past time to have a little fun.

And since "Sweet Caroline" has been scratched from the musical menu, if Penn State is taking requests, I've got one: "Here Comes the Sun."

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or You can also follow him on Twitter@neilrudel.

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