Reconnecting With my Penn State Fandom

By Peter Berkes on September 6, 2016 at 9:30 am
Beaver Stadium
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Time has never felt like a steady flow to me. It sounds dramatic, but I can explain. People recall single important moments with great clarity, but the long walk between those moments gets shorter once it's stored safely in your brain. I have this habit of measuring time by the places I've lived, since the mundane details of everyday life blur together when there's nothing to filter them into their own little places in your mind. It's hard to recall a specific year or month for some memories, but you can place it by remembering which living room it happened in.

The last time I remember feeling fully invested in Penn State football was October 12, 2013. Penn State beat Michigan 43-40 in an extremely stupid, extremely bad, extremely good 4OT game. I know the exact date because I can google it, but the memory that still grabs me is yelping incoherently and jumping off the couch in my old apartment as Bill Belton scored to win the game.

That memory still brings me joy, and it also makes me feel like a deadbeat, since I haven't lived in that apartment in in well over two years.

I haven’t watched much Penn State football since then. I would be compelled to watch other games on at the same time for work reasons usually, but I would be lying to you if I said I wasn’t all too happy to just watch something else. You miss one game, then another, and then before you know it, an entire season has passed and I maybe watched a couple quarters of Penn State’s season, and it was mostly because they were playing Ohio State or Michigan State.

I won’t lie to you and tell you this had nothing to do with the scandal. It did, on some level, but it’s not a line of reasoning I’ve been able to clearly articulate and I’m not sure I ever will. I’m not here to talk about that, though, and you sure as hell don’t need to hear from anyone else about it. The team as it’s presently constituted has nothing to do with what happened, so using them as the object of my anger over it is pointless. Mainly, drifting away from Penn State football was a cocktail of personal apathy, professional factors, and, well, they just made football look so damn difficult.

The offense’s struggles over the past few seasons have been well documented in many different spaces. My preferred measure of offensive success, S&P+, is just one way of looking at it.

2013: 84th 
2014: 109th
2015: 59th

Explosiveness helped bring up those rankings too, for the most part, as Penn State’s efficiency numbers for each of those years were in the 70s. Either way, it’s not some bolt of clarity from on high that Penn State’s offense has been terrible to watch. When your viewing options are a couple games between ranked teams or Penn State fumbling around in the dark against Rutgers or whoever, it doesn’t look like much of a choice in a vacuum.

This has left me in the odd position of not really knowing that much about my favorite team. When all you get is the 10,000 foot view for a few years, you lose track of the day to day stuff, and you let that go long enough and you end up saying you're a fan but not knowing shit.

But as the 2016 season starts, I’m making an effort to reconnect with the team I grew up rooting for. There’s a new offensive coordinator, a new quarterback, and it feels like the perfect time for a fresh start. Frustrations will still be there, and probably in ample supply, but considering the God-forsaken menagerie of teams I root for, at least that will still be consistent.

I know sports fandom is something that people treat very seriously, especially in college sports, and I don’t mean to be flippant or disrespectful with something that so many people treat so seriously, but not everyone is the same. This is supposed to be fun, and if it’s not, well, what are you doing? 

On Saturday afternoon, I felt oddly nervous. I felt like I was being tested by the schedule, in some demented way. With LSU-Wisconsin and Texas A&M-UCLA kicking off at the same time, this was a point where in years past I would just watch the other games and catch maybe a couple minutes of Penn State during commercials. It sounds so stupid acting like watching my favorite football team is an accomplishment on some level, but this is where I’m starting from. The wandering urge doesn’t just go away.

Some of the frustrations were still there. This was a weird, stuttering game, but it was the season opener with a new quarterback, a new offense, and against a team with a legitimately good defense. Offense always takes time to get into sync at the beginning of the year, so you just have to accept there’s going to be some level of dysfunction. You know, on top of what happens when you try to get a bunch of 18-22 year olds to do anything in a coordinated fashion.

I was in my living room on Saturday afternoon. Late in the first half, I experienced one of those moments that I’m going to remember which couch I was sitting on when it happened. It was Joey Julius knocking the holy spirit out of this poor kid.

Alright, I’m back.

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