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Victory, Even in Defeat

by on January 10, 2017 5:00 AM

What a game! Forget about the outcome for just a few moments and think about the 2017 Rose Bowl in the context of the great football game that it was. That was about 10 times more emotional and exciting than any other bowl game and, dare I say (you should be saying to yourself…”dare, dare!”), more exciting than most NFL games these days.

Then why some of the sad faces Nittany Nation? Why some of the nasty, Monday-morning quarterbacking second guessing strategy, play calling, or performance? Let’s just accept the game for what it was: a masterpiece in live drama played out on the gridiron in one of the most famous settings in all of sport in “The Granddaddy of Them All.” Savor it, because it was a classic.

All I can say about the season is great big Happy Valley kudos to the Nittany Lion football staff, team, lettermen, boosters and alumni. What a season and what a finish! Not even some of the most faithful fans could have predicted this thrill ride, so don’t even think about getting down on this particular Nittany Lion team. There will never be another team made up of this same roster, with all the same staff, and all the same circumstances. So let’s celebrate them for what they accomplished and live vicariously through them and their accomplishments just a bit as they certainly made us Penn State proud.

I had a great seat for four days of bowl games, expert pre-game analysis, and post-game critiques. Well, sort of. I was actually sitting in my recliner, ice bags and pain medication on hand, recovering from “hisnia” surgery, as my friends called it. That’s what I get for joining the stationary bike spin class at the YMCA and thinking I could pick up where I left off instead of easing back into the workouts. So, I was dialed in and wired up for a lot of football and hockey games given my limited mobility over the New Year’s weekend.

From what I saw, the players, while disappointed, know they left everything that they had on the playing field (with the exception, of course, of the two who got suspended and let down their teammates more than anything else). It was a heroic effort and while they deserved a better fate, they should all be proud of this amazing season.

This time is always hardest on the senior athletes as many may be playing the final game in their competitive careers. But there is still a satisfaction in knowing you played on the biggest stage and you battled to the end.

That feeling of “giving it your all” and having “nothing left in the tank,” is indescribable, unless you have been in the heat of battle against the toughest competition. Multiply those feelings in this particular game by a few factors, given the College Football Playoff snub and the success of the Lions’ season heading into the game. Oh, and that it was USC in the Rose Bowl.

Speaking of USC, give the Trojans credit. They found a way to jump out to a big lead and almost watched Penn State do what it did to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Title game. But USC had enough left to pull it out in the end. That was a freshman quarterback? Are you kidding me? Sam Darnold has ice water in his veins and I have a feeling he’ll be playing on Sundays in the NFL someday.

When you have given it your all, you hold your head high, and firmly shake the opponent’s hand, look them in the eye and congratulate them on a game well-played and a battle well-fought. Yes, it would have felt better -- a lot better --  if the third quarter comeback had resulted in a Rose Bowl victory. It was a shame there could only be one victor from such a well-played game. I think most of us would agree that both teams were winners that day.

So I ask the staff and the team to look back upon this season with heads held high, celebrating what a terrific journey it has been. Thanks for letting us tag along for the ride. It was a blast.

“Temporary Setback”

As coach of the Penn State Icers, I tried to look upon these types of heroic losing efforts with as positive an outlook as was possible.  Well, most of the time. I would tell the my players it was simply a ‘temporary setback” and that we would be better for having been in the tough battles, especially on the road.

We have all heard the phrase somewhere in our lives that “There are no failures, only lessons learned.” You do not get better unless you push yourself further than you ever thought possible and learn to rise up if you fall.  

Speaking of which, then-No. 2 ranked Penn State varsity men’s hockey found itself in just that situation on Jan. 6 in Columbus when it thoroughly outplayed No. 11 Ohio State. Despite outshooting the Buckeyes 46-20, the Nittany Lions ended up losing for the first time in 13 games, 3-0.  Sometimes the better team doesn’t always win. Remember that “on any given day” axiom?

So what did Coach Guy Gadowsky’s troops do on Saturday? They came back with an impressive 4-2 victory. Speaking of a fun team to watch! If you haven’t seen this year’s hockey team play, you are missing college hockey being played at the highest levels -- and it’s just been five years since the transition was made to NCAA and Big Ten hockey. Don’t miss an opportunity to see these guys in action.

I ran into a hockey season ticket holder over break and he asked me if I had my tickets for the NCAA Frozen Four in Chicago yet. I immediately stepped back and said there is a long way to go and let’s not take anything for granted. Don’t jinx these guys. Just keep supporting them.  

It is also way too early to start making bold predictions about the next football season as well. No one really knows what the 2017 Nittany Lions staff and team will look like. We all want to believe this season will be a steppingstone like it was for the 1985 team that lost to the Oklahoma Sooners in the Orange Bowl. The 1986 season culminated in, as all of us old faithful PSU fans know, the shutting down of the Vinny Testaverde-led Miami Hurricanes in the Fiesta Bowl for a National Championship.

A lot will happen between now and next fall, but one thing is certain: the 2016-17 Nittany Lion Football team proved to the entire country what resiliency and character are all about. So the boys didn’t win the Rose Bowl. They won something much bigger. They won over the entire Nittany Nation. It truly was a victory, even in defeat.



Joe Battista has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. He is best known for his effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. “JoeBa” is the owner of PRAGMATIC Passion, LLC consulting, a professional speaker, success coach, and the vice president of the National Athletic and Professional Success Academy (NAPSA). He is the author of a new book, “The Power of Pragmatic Passion.” Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 & ’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).
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