New football faces emerging
There has been much gnashing of teeth throughout Nittany Nation this fall regarding the worst start in the history of the football program.
The fan base has certainly been spoiled throughout the years. Bowl games have become something akin to birthrights.
Each decade since the 1960s has produced either an undefeated season, national championship or top-tier bowl victory.
In 1986, all three were achieved.
Now, when every aspect of life seemingly has been subject to change, even old reliable Penn State football cannot be counted upon to defeat a 27¢-point underdog at Beaver Stadium (see Maryland).
Only time will tell if this season’s results reflect a sustained period of rebuilding or an anomaly.
Ironically, another Pennsylvania team has enjoyed a run of success that surely is the envy of friend and foe alike.
Since the 1970s, the Steelers have advanced to the Super Bowl at least once in four of the five decades. In the decade without a Super Bowl appearance (1980s), Pittsburgh made one trip to the AFC title game. Steelers fans have endured only seven losing seasons since 1972, an extraordinary tribute to the level of talent, competence and commitment at every level of the organization.
What makes Pittsburgh’s legacy of success so unique is that the team’s primary competitors for dominance of the football world throughout the 1970s have failed to consistently measure up.
Dallas won three Super Bowls in the 1990s but has not appeared in a conference championship game in a quarter century. The Rams posted losing seasons from 1990 through 1998 and 2007 through 2016. Minnesota is still searching for its first Super Bowl victory.
George H.W. Bush was serving his final days as president when Miami last competed in a conference title game. The Raiders made one playoff appearance in their last 17 years in Oakland, finishing .500 or better just three times.
Let’s not begrudge the Maryland Terrapins and Indiana Hoosiers their time in the spotlight.
Their gridiron triumphs over Penn State do not necessarily portend the changing of the guard in the Big Ten East. College football, in general, is producing refreshing novelty throughout the Top 25.
Undeniably, contrasts exist between football teams that could only appear during these unprecedented times.
Prior to games played on November 21, both Liberty and Oregon boasted perfect records, yet Liberty was positioned 10 spots behind Oregon in the national rankings, despite playing six more games than the Ducks.
The combined win total for traditional powers Michigan, Nebraska, USC and LSU is only one more than the eight wins recorded by No. 7 Cincinnati.
In the NFL, teams long shrouded in glory are case studies in futility this season. Of six teams that account for nearly half of all the Super Bowl wins — Patriots, 49ers, Cowboys, Giants, Redskins and Broncos — none are playing .500 ball.
The exception among the game’s storied champions are the Steelers, who have almost as many wins as the four teams in the NFC East combined.
During these dark days of the pandemic, it is natural to search for anything that inspires, instills hope or brings joy.
In this football season without parallel, here’s a wish that a fairy-tale ending to some team’s season (Tampa Bay Bucs?) will be one of the first positive events in 2021.
Jim Caltagirone resides in Altoona. He is an occasional contributor to Voice of the Fan.