Saturday, November 12, 2011

Penn State vs. Nebraska--No Game Like it

Penn State vs. Nebraska, today in State College, Pa. The strangest game in the history of college football? No doubt about it.

There never was and probably never will be a game like this one--played on the campus of a university with this kind of an open wound. Penn State is in chaos because of a child sex-abuse scandal that's been unfolding all week. Legendary football coach Joe Paterno was fired, triggering an ugly student riot. The school's president was forced to resign. The FBI was called in to investigate. There are rumors that, in terms of the scandal, what's just been revealed is the tip of the iceberg. For certain more heads will roll. Next season, there will likely be an entirely new coaching staff.

Many called for this game to be cancelled, for the rest of the Penn State season to be called off. Many, in protest, will not watch the game. But more, loving a train wreck, will watch.

Imagine what the Penn State players are feeling, with their beloved coach ousted in shame and a deer-in-the-headlights assistant suddenly in charge. How can they properly prepare for Nebraska (7-2), the most ferocious team in the Big Ten, under these circumstances? Penn State, 12th-ranked and sporting a flashy 8-1 record, is a very good team, with a two-game lead in the Big Ten Leaders division, headed for a major bowl. But, for this game, the players definitely won't be at their best.

You can bet their heads are spinning. What to do? Play hard and pulverize Nebraska and many will accuse them of being callous and insensitive. With a victory they'll also be accused of siding with Paterno, aiming to win one for JoePa. Losing will probably be better. They won't be maligned as selfish brutes who care nothing about abused kids. But what football player wants to lose?

You can't help but feel sorry for the Penn State players--somewhat unprepared, emotionally torn, unfairly trapped in a hellish situation. They should be thinking about going to a bowl, but they probably can't wait for this season to be over. Some most likely will transfer to another school, where they can concentrate on playing football.

But there's a silver lining. The players have bragging rights. They can always say they played in a historic game--easily the strangest in college football history.