I’m incredibly spoiled.
That probably sounds like a strange way to start a column, though it’s something that I think of constantly. I’m also reminded of this on my daily run around the University Park campus. I grew up in the area, graduated from Penn State, and have plenty of memories of Beaver Stadium, both as a fan while growing up and also covering the team.
Since moving back to State College, I’ve spent the last seven years living in College Heights, right next to campus.
I’ve been a runner for a long time now, going back to my undergraduate days, and my current routine takes me up a few blocks along Atherton Street, where I cross at Park Avenue, and then run the entire length of Curtain Road.
I pass by the Nittany Lion Shrine, University Libraries (Pattee-Paterno), Palmer Museum of Art, and the Berkey Creamery. I keep going until I hit the T-intersection where Beaver Stadium intersects with Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, head to University Drive along Park, and then double back.
Many Penn Staters are able to return to campus only a few times a year. Usually during highly popular events such as the Blue-White Game, Arts Fest, Homecoming, and the seven home football games.
In many ways, this is a lost year for alumni and friends, though I don’t see it entirely that way. Of course, it’s easy for me to say that. Again, I’m spoiled. I have the opportunity to work for my alma mater and see the aforementioned legendary campus landmarks nearly every day.
With the Big Ten football season (and all fall sports) now officially canceled — the conference will regroup and see if the teams can pull off a spring season — Penn State faces a fall unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before.
Chances are pretty good the next four-plus months will go by slowly. Campus will probably have something of an eerie feeling at times. As a runner, sometimes it’s nice to feel like I have campus to myself, though I undoubtably miss the buzz that students and visitors create when they swarm back to Happy Valley.
While looking ahead, there are already a few things I believe I’ll remember from this year. And perhaps future generations will benefit, too. Anytime something seismic comes along that fundamentally shifts the way people live and work, and I think a global pandemic counts, changes are bound to happen.
- Many Penn State football student-athletes speaking up and further realizing the influence they have, and how to positively wield that influence beyond the field. Among other leaders on the squad, team captain Sean Clifford posted a thoughtful message once the cancellation was announced. This followed up similar posts featuring hashtags #IWantToPlay and #IWantASeason, and also imploring fans to wear masks. You can scroll through the Twitter feeds of many of his teammates to find additional examples.
- James Franklin continuing to be a strong advocate for student-athletes and further cement his status as one of the best coaches in the country, and one who’s not afraid to comment on important issues facing our society. Here’s a message he posted the day before the official cancellation announcement came out. When not saying anything is sometimes the easiest thing to do, it’s heartening to see our on-field leaders speak up.
- Had the 2020 season continued in the fall, I strongly believe Penn State would’ve made the playoffs. I had this projection in place heading into 2019, and I saw last season unfolding like 1993, which led to the all-time great season of 1994. Just like 1993, the Nittany Lions had a few regular-season losses, though enjoyed a strong finish with an impressive bowl win. There was so much talent on the roster, and over the years, Franklin talks with more and more confidence about how this program is where he wants it to be. One example is agreeing to be highlighted on HBO’s 24/7 College Football program last season. The team had been approached with the request in previous years, though it wasn’t until last year’s campaign that Franklin said he felt comfortable enough to agree to it. How this year’s Penn State team would’ve fared probably will be a lively conversation topic among fans in the coming years.
One last thing I’ll remember: Never take anything for granted. Before this year, I knew I could always count on covering Penn State football in the fall, seeing hundreds of thousands of alumni and fans return to their collegiate home, and see campus come alive again after a laid-back summer.
I knew it. It would always happen. Until 2020.
So when Penn State football returns in 2021, I’ll savor it even more. Until then, I’ll settle for the welcoming views on my daily runs.