The Penn State scandal is a terrible real-life illustration of the point I tried to make in last week’s column: off-field drama can impact on-field playing. I don’t know if it will affect NFL players, but it clearly was a presence in the Nebraska-Penn State game on Saturday afternoon.
Prior to the game, both teams met in the middle of the field to kneel and pray. It was a show of sportsmanship that reminds us that ultimately football is just a game. Those who play it will push aside rivalries and rankings to sympathize with an opponent dealing with a situation few would have believed a week ago.
Despite focusing on football in an attempt to heal, Penn State lost to Nebraska, a team ranked seven spots behind them. If this were a movie, one player would have used a passionate speech to motivate the team to win for the victims. PSU would have overcome the 17-point deficit with one final, beautiful pass in the last nine seconds. But this wasn’t a movie. The victims are real and that affected the Nittany Lions.
I was ecstatic about USF’s Friday night win over Syracuse. QB B.J. Daniels looked better than ever. Coach Skip Holtz praised him, saying, “He has truly become an athletic quarterback who can stand in the pocket. He is a quarterback who is a great athlete. I’m really proud of B.J. Daniels.”
I felt the same way. But Saturday sobered me up a little. Watching Penn State lose to a team they should have beaten, knowing that they have players as good as Daniels who didn’t play to their abilities because of an off-field distraction was sad. There’s no other way to put it. I’m sure interim coach Tom Bradley was proud of his players as well, but not because they played their best.
To me, the Nebraska-Penn State game was a reality check. Athletes are some of the best at leaving their real lives in the locker room. But this situation affected the Penn State players significantly, despite not directly victimizing any of them.
I cheer on B.J. Daniels every week. I’m customizing a shirt with his name on it because I can’t find one I like. Sometimes I forget he is just a student like me. Just like PSU QB Matt McGloin and the rest of the Nittany Lions.