Generally speaking, I've felt quite a bit of inbound animosity as a Rutgers fan from the beginning of our experience in the Big Ten. From all corners of the B1G, we've heard talk of "not traditional enough,” "not big enough," "not Midwest enough." Nowhere was this louder than from the droves of fans who chant "We are."
Enter 2017 and things seem to have changed, for some reason. Maybe it's the changing of the guard in the AD's office here in New Jersey, maybe its the football and basketball coaching staffs, maybe its the conduct of our passionate-yet-polite fan base. Whatever it is, it's undeniable.
The State University of New Jersey is finally getting the respect it deserves from Penn State. Being the older, more established, overall better-by-any-metric institution, it never made sense why we got so much grief from the mountain folk, but I suppose its water under the bridge now. The important thing is that PSU fans are finally treating us as peers, which is a wonderful thing, and I for one think we should applaud their fans and athletic administration.
Further, it seems that the Penn State denizens have been behaving a little bit more cordially to everyone; acting with some class - like they belong in the premiere college football conference. The reasons are as mysterious as they are myriad, but they are notable. What was once an unwashed mash of filthy rednecks crawling from their troll caves to scourge the land has now become a civil, uplifted society.
Under normal circumstances, I might find myself writing a hate piece today, but just as with Wisconsin, I find myself full of love today. Love for Candy Shandy, love for the coming of the wonderful football season, and love for our peer institution out in farm country.
Casually mentioning rivalries to Penn State fans over the years has elicited slack-jawed, spittle-filled, chaw-laden claims of being #UNRIVALED. Asserting that the Rutgers game brought some heat on both sides of the divide was met with obnoxious table-pounding about records from decades past, often accompanied by poorly spelled and trite insults.
Knowing a number of Penn State fans, I can say with confidence that now they see us as their singular true all-sport rivals. I hear they're even working on a trophy game. With lasers.
Experienced Big Ten fans remember a time when Penn State fans would prattle on insufferably, somehow combining the worst elements of a superiority complex with the crassness of the hill country, infuriating everyone around them with their nonstop chants of "We are" and yelling "UNRIVALED" after sentences that had no logical conclusion in that turn of phrase.
Demure fans of the modern age now know a more enlightened Penn State fan. One that takes pride in the proud history of the program, but also has humility in the face of past transgressions.
Penn State is a complicated place. A complicated team. With a complicated history.
Someday, we'll look back on the behavior of a few of these fans and laugh. We'll share one of Wisconsin's finest fruit ales and commend the behavior of the modern Penn State fan. One that can enjoy a game of sport with their peers, use complete sentences, and encourage others while showing pride in their own.
Unfortunately, I fear this will not last. The bucolic days of summer will give way to intense days of fall and those intense football rivalries (especially the Big Ten’s most intense rivalry: Rutgers vs. Penn State). Until then though, I hope my brothers and sisters from across the river will take part in the subtler, nuanced things in life. I don't know. Maybe even read between the lines a little bit.