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Joe Battista: You Can't Always Get What You Want

by on November 01, 2012 6:00 AM

It was supposed to be our night. It was supposed to be our chance to stick it to the NCAA and to show the rest of the world who “We Are” as a football team and as a university.

It had just been announced that we had a 91 percent graduation rate. It was a WhiteOut, a sellout, and it was the perfect atmosphere for a fall football game in Happy Valley. Vindication was at hand. It was our fate to be the victors, just ask us and we will tell you it was going to be our night.

It was, as one T-Shirt humorously proclaimed, “The Ineligibowl” with a clever subtitle the “Screwed vs. the Tattooed.”

Things don't always go as planned. Ohio State 35, Penn State 23.

Fans will debate what caused the loss. A bad bounce, a dropped pass, a missed interception for a “pick six”, a blown call, a missed assignment, (or maybe, just maybe, the other team played better, at least on this particular fall Saturday).

Anyone who has ever played or coached competitively knows the empty feeling of coming out on the short end of a big game that had so many hopes riding on it. Braxton Miller wasn’t supposed to be that good and he certainly wasn’t going to beat us with his arm. But when he threw the game-clinching 72-yard TD pass to a guy named Stoneburner, it took the collective wind out of our sails and sent many fans away in disappointment that the fate they believed they deserved was somehow unfulfilled.

After spending the bulk of my 52 years engaged in sports as a participant, coach and fan, one thing I have learned with great certainty: “You can’t always get what you want.”

The outcome of athletic contests doesn’t always turn out the way you’d like.

The glass slipper doesn’t always fit and the hero doesn’t always get to ride off into the sunset, no matter how many times you replay it in your mind. The “would haves, could haves, and should haves” don’t change the final result.

Somewhere at a press conference or at a team meeting or in front of the local boosters, some coach will wax poetically with ‘coachspeak’ and clichés like “Excuses are like armpits, we all have them and they all stink” or “We didn’t bring our ‘A’ game” or “Some days you get the bear and others the bear gets you.”

The best coaches will take the blame themselves (Coach O'Brien wanted all the responsibility on his shoulders after Saturday's loss).

Players are resilient; assistant coaches will feel it but will be back to watching film and recruiting and will be too busy to think about it for long. The head coach alone feels it all.

“What could I have done differently? What didn't I see? What if?”

The head coach has to handle all the emotions and find a way to press on. The great ones do.

So here's what I think: Coach O'Brien has done a remarkable job under circumstances you wouldn't wish upon your worst enemy under the most challenging of circumstances. Very few people can truly understand what it's like to replace a legend and deal with challenges not of your making.

Coach O’Brien has handled it with class and dignity and has never made any excuses. He has proven to be just what was needed to handle what most people would have run away from. He has stuck behind this amazing bunch of kids led by an incredible group of seniors who have stayed together through the most unprecedented set of circumstances in the history of college football.

I am not making excuses for the staff or the players and I am not suggesting that we couldn’t have done things differently to perhaps alter the outcome. What I am saying is that sometimes things just don’t happen the way we want them and there is nothing that can be done to change the final score.

It hurts, it stings, and it was disappointing. It’s also ancient history at this point. It’s time to move on to the next game, the next opponent, and the next set of challenges.

It’s also time for us to stick together as fans and to stay behind this coach and this amazing group of student-athletes.

During my years of coaching the Icers at Penn State, we always looked for ways to inspire the team to pull together and dig down deep to find a way to win a big game.

In 1994 we were coming off a devastating loss in the national title game in what we commonly refer to in Icer history as the “33 and the wrong one” season. We entered the national championship game undefeated at 33-0, but our coronation never occurred as we got upset in the finals, 2-1. Devastating doesn’t begin to describe the emotions in that dressing room after the game. We had nine amazing seniors who deserved better and it was our “destiny” to be undefeated national champions. But it didn’t happen. It didn’t go the way we planned.

So as we prepared for Nationals for the 1994 season, we put together one of the best motivational videos I have ever seen set to the fiery Queen hit, “I Want It All.” It was a favorite video for years of the kids at hockey camp, and it would have had the perfect ending except for one thing: We didn’t win. In fact, in my 19 years as head coach, it was our worst finish at the national tournament. We came in sixth place.

At that year’s banquet, we played the “I Want It All” motivational tape for the parents and boosters who all thought it was amazing. In a feeble attempt at post-loss humor, we played our Nationals highlight tape set to the Rolling Stones hit song, “You Can't Always Get What You Want.”

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From ice hockey to Intercollegiate Athletics and Smeal, JoeBa has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities. Battista was an influential player in the effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley. He is now Vice President of Hockey Operations for the Buffalo Sabres.
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