FWD I am back: The incredible joy of Penn State's 2016 season

By Peter Berkes on January 18, 2017 at 8:33 am
Trace McSorley and Mike Gesicki
Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports
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At the start of the season, I set out of something of an experiment. Well, experiment may be giving myself too much credit, but I wanted to put myself back out there in terms of my Penn State fandom. After several years of walling myself off from not only Penn State, but sports in general, I was letting the team back in for the opportunity to wreck my Saturday afternoons and evenings once again.

It was stupid, really. I had finally gotten to a point where I wasn’t getting mad when my sports teams betrayed me anymore, and I was going to do something as stupid as walk back down the path and let them stab me in the heart again. It was so, so stupid. But then Penn State’s amazing 2016 season happened, and as it turns out, being stupid and being great are not mutually exclusive.

You catch a rush when you see something incredible done by another team, but it's so much more satisfying and meaningful when it's your team out there doing the damn thing.

This season was fun. Real fun, real joy, joy that comes from that place deep in your brain that activates when you see something exceptional. You catch a rush when you see something incredible done by another team, but it's so much more satisfying and meaningful when it's your team out there doing the damn thing. And Penn State did exactly that this year.

The lows were low. Losing to Pitt sucked, and the Michigan game was absolutely wretched. But it was worth it to put up with being a crabby jerk for two Saturdays when some of the other ones were so incredible. The bounce after the Michigan game and subsequent winning streak was surreal, a two month-long rollercoaster that saw kids from every corner of the team make incredible plays. There was the blocked kick against Ohio State that instantly made Grant Haley a Penn State legend. And there was the Big Ten championship, which saw our boys go from getting dragged by Wisconsin to blowing them off the field in the second half, en route to the conference title. Let's take another look, shall we?

The offense was a freight train once they shook off their customary first half shakes, and they hit big plays so regularly I started to take it for granted. I’m the sports fan that always thinks the sky really is falling, and even I trusted Trace McSorley and the offense to blow teams away after halftime. Let’s talk about Trace for a moment. After all the frustration, rumor-mongering, and heaping helpings of bad football we saw over the last two years with Christian Hackenberg at quarterback, seeing Trace grab the reins and play so fearlessly was exhilarating. And it wasn’t just that he was fearless, he was good.

The team scoring average jumped from 23.2 points in 2015, all the way to 37.1 this year, which -- ahahahahahahaha mother of pearl -- but it wasn’t just because of Trace. The offensive line grew by leaps and bounds under Matt Limegrover, and with Joe Moorhead running the offense, playmakers at every position like Saquon Barkley, Chris Godwin, and Mike Gesicki could shine. It was unbelievably fun, and the turnaround was so fast and so stark. It felt like the way the sport was meant to be played. And even though the season ended with a tough loss, I can’t get too upset about seeing my team exchange haymakers with USC in one of the finest Rose Bowls in my lifetime.

For a few years now, I've experienced sports largely as a detestable irony boy. I still watched and found a lot of enjoyment from it, but I wasn't invested in anything. When things invariably went belly up, I could just retreat into my safe cocoon of irony. Ha ha, I’m not mad about my team pissing down their leg yet again. Ha ha only idiots would do that. I call it sportsball. I’m glad I put myself back out there for this season, it was so much more enjoyable and rewarding than I ever could have predicted.

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