To describe College Football, one would rarely refer to it as perfect. Entertaining? Yes. Exciting? Absolutely. Beautiful? Well, I suppose beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.
It has moments and plays that seem to encroach on perfection, but those are usually offset by missed assignments, terrible kicks, and boneheaded drops that 18-22 year old kids are wont to make. Even so, as time marches on and the games that get etched into our minds become legend, we cannot help but think of those ‘great’ teams and ‘great’ plays. As I watched our first OTE Films Replay last night - 1982 Nebraska - Penn State - the reality of just how imperfect football really is stuck out to me.
There were three missed FGs for Penn State while up 14-0 in the first half that could have - would have - changed the tide. There was a moment where there were three turnovers in three plays between Penn State and Nebraska. Overall, four fumbles lost - on six fumbles, two INTs, lots of missed FGs, and countless missed opportunities on bad snaps and bad decisions. And yet, watching this game made you think that you were watching something historic. In fact, Penn State would end up getting its first National Championship - despite getting absolutely shelled by Alabama the next week.
The incredible takeaway - outside of the glorious jerseys, bright red pants on the Husker sideline, beautiful hair on Joe Paterno, and wonderful programming notes on CBS - is that this game was actually a fairly poorly played game, especially by the incredible standards we have in 2020. I mentioned in the gamethread that almost any modern RB would look ridiculously unstoppable in 1982, and still I can’t help but yelp a little bit when I see Mike Rozier, Curt Warner, or Jon Williams run the ball. I was impressed at the moxie from Turner Gill and Todd Blackledge. Mike McCloskey was an animal. Irving Fryar was as smooth as anyone on the field. Dave Rimington was every bit the animal we remember. This game had star power, and even in spite - perhaps especially in spite - of the very often awful football, this game was beautiful.
As my colleague, Dead Read, said it best, “memory is about remembering and forgetting.” Most Nebraska fans will always remember this game as the game McCloskey was out-of-bounds and forget all of the missed opportunities, terrible defensive miscues, and back-breaking turnovers. Penn State fans will remember it as a legendary comeback to secure Joe Paterno his first National Championship in spite of awful special teams, fortunate calls, and incredibly bad turnovers.
But hey, that is exactly what makes this - College Football in general - great. The fun is not in the reckless pursuit of perceived perfection. It’s not some linear adjudication of which team is ‘best’ across eras. No, the fun is in being able to argue about an ambiguous call that very much decided Penn State’s ability to win a National Championship, and also the reality that both teams played as great and as awful as they possibly could and nobody can really argue otherwise. It was a great game, and even if my team didn’t come out on the right end of this one, I can appreciate that we can talk about nearly four decades later. This had meaning, and that’s why we show up on Fall Saturdays even today (well, not today today. please keep participating in social distancing).
So, if you followed along and watched the game with us last night, I am glad you had a chance to relive the joy and agony this game gave to each of its fanbases. If you didn’t, I promise there will be more games to watch that have more joy and more agony. After all, this is what makes College Football fun. It sure isn’t perfect, but who cares? A little disarray never hurt anyone.