Jay Paterno: Blue-White Proves That 'Love for the Team' Doesn't Fade
Blue-White Weekend, much like the entire “spring” so far, was an inconsistent tease of decent weather wrapped up in rain and wind and less-than-seasonal temperatures. After the alleged spring we’re having, the meteorologists at AccuWeather are less popular than President Obama at a “birthers” convention.
Blue-White Weekend has turned into a spring homecoming for alumni, fans and former student-athletes. For the Penn State football alumni still playing in the NFL the spring game gives them an off-season opportunity to come back and see old teammates, visit old haunts, enjoy the old college nightlife and see their old coaches. Even this year’s weather couldn’t dampen that.
The reunions are valued by both former players and their old coaches. The on- and off-the-field memories of each day, week and year of a student-athlete’s college career create a common bond of shared experiences that only those who traveled that road can grasp.
When I talked with former players, the discussion turned to the current NFL lockout and I gained a new perspective. While it’s easy to see the big-name, big-contract guys as the face of the NFL, the issues run deeper. Most guys never see the kind of money those guys are making.
The average NFL career is between two and three years. For most of these guys, their peak earning years for their entire lives are that small window when they play in the NFL. The short career means they must maximize the earnings they can accrue in that short period of time.
As one former Penn State player put it, “The cash flow we have as NFL players will end when we stop playing. The challenge is to earn enough and create investments that will keep enough cash flow coming for me after I’m done playing.”
The players have families and responsibilities that will not go away because their NFL playing and earning days are over. If anything, the pressures are higher when they are done playing a very physical and often-violent game.
On the other side, players know the owners are trying to run a profitable business and put a successful product on the field. But the players’ careers will end. The owners can continue to run the teams and make money as long as they do a good job managing the massive television money, ticket money, concession sales and licensing money that comes their way.
All of the players I talked with want one thing and one thing only: to get a fair deal and get back to playing football as soon as possible.
But Blue-White Weekend wasn’t just about hearing from NFL players about the lockout. Maybe the best part of seeing and spending time with former players is the feedback you get. The stories they tell you now that you’re no longer their coach. You learn that some of the lessons you tried to impart did actually take root and have a positive impact on them.
On the flipside, you get a chance to discuss and learn some of the things that they are doing in the NFL. After work on Thursday afternoon, I met up with Michael Robinson at a downtown establishment and before long we were talking football strategy and using glasses and salt and pepper shakers to illustrate the Xs and Os of what we’re doing and what he’d learned in the NFL.
One story he brought up was from nine years ago. One of the players on the team was having some financial difficulty. The team leaders called a players-only team meeting after hours in the Lasch Building and told everyone to kick in some money, a $10 or a $20 where possible, to help out their teammate.
It reminded me of two similar stories from 1986, my first year at Penn State. After a house fire where two of our players were living forced them out of their apartment, the captains told everyone on the team to kick in their $12 of meal money to help out. It was just what you do when you are a part of the team.
At the end of that same year, senior Tim Manoa’s family wanted to come see him play. Tim’s family, natives of Tonga, lived in Hawaii. Everyone on the team kicked in our $12 meal money to help his family come see Tim play his last game in Beaver Stadium for Senior Day.
These stories reminded me of a key ingredient most great teams have: players with a commitment to one another and a love for one another. Teammates don’t have to like one another, but when it comes down to the hard off-season workouts and game days, there needs to be a shared love for the team and for each man to trust in one another.
Even years later the love of the team doesn’t fade as the days and months and years pass. That may have been the best thing I learned this past weekend.