So the first Penn State football game of the season has been played. We lost. It was an inspired, energetic first half and a difficult second half. You have to go back to 2001 to find a Penn State home opener loss, of course that was Miami…the Florida Miami. The last time Penn State lost a home opener to a non-BCS team was 1967.
I remember when I first fell in love with football. It was on the play-ground when I was in fourth grade. In fact I remember the day I fell in love with football, it was the first day I played running back on the play-ground game. (Note the words play and game.) I was juking and joking and scored my first touchdown. I was in love with the game. As I grew older, my first season of tackle football in 7th grade, led to a 27 game winning streak in high school, which led to four years of college ball in Division 3 school in Minnesota.
Through it all I never quit loving the game, but as I grew older I realized that I loved it for at least two reasons. It was a great game and it was a great growth opportunity. During those years I grew as a leader. I grew as a man. I grew in my understanding of what it meant to be part of a team. I would guess that there are few high school or college coaches who wouldn’t tell you that one of their greatest football passions is the opportunity to mold the hearts and the character of young men.
It’s not that we don’t like to win, but it’s a recognition that there are some things more important. I loved winning, but I grew more through losing. I experienced both, large measures of both. I loved winning, but I grew more through losing.
So here is what I think after watching the first Penn State game. The kids (note the word kids) who stayed to play through this season are no less worthy of our support today than they were when we rallied because they stayed. How we (the State College community) respond to the fact that a group of teenagers (and 20+ year olds) lost a game, (that’s teenagers and game) will show whether we want our football team to save us, save our reputation, save our national image, save our economic viability, or whether we want to serve them.
In many ways this season may be more of a test of our character, than it is theirs.
I will be praying for these young men all season long… praying for more first half experiences than second half experiences, but more importantly praying that they grow in heart and character in ways that will positively shape their future. Hope you join me. That’s what it truly means to be “one team.”