So, what did you think? The name label makers, label makesses, seamstresses, and seamsters were going to work overtime in order to have the team’s new jerseys ready for display on Media Day, already? Didn’t happen. Yesterday was media day; names and ribbons were nowhere in evidence. It turns out that the new uniforms’ debut will be September 1, the season opener.
The players showed up at the confab looking like… like… like Penn State players. Just like they have always looked. They’re trying to break us in gently, to give us time. This is clearly going to be a traumatic change for many of us who are used to seeing the boringly unadorned sea of blue or white, which stood for hardheaded determinism in coaching, among many other perceived virtues. The players are fine with the changes, both in uniforms and in coaching, but some of us important folks — alumni and fans who make huge donations and pay for tickets — are not amused.
There are a half million alumni (most of whom were at Woodstock) who are split on the so-called simple changes to the uniforms: a name banner on the back of the jersey and a blue ribbon on the front in support of child abuse prevention. To those who oppose the move, this represents something akin to a doctor’s office changing from a manual system to a computerized one — Oy, we’ve been doing it this way for 60 years and it works, so why change it? Progress, my mulish friends, progress.
What’s in a name? Recognition for no-name players who stuck it out with Penn State when the chips were (are) down? You bet. The team made the decision, and coach O’Brien supports it. Here’s what he had to say:
I’m very respectful of the traditions here. Very respectful. But it’s a new era of Penn State football in many ways, and the reason for the names on the back of the jerseys is, there are a few I want people to recognize the fact that these are kids that are special, competitive kids that care about education, that care about Penn State, and have gone through some tough times over the last year as a team, individually, and they’ve stuck with us. I think that says a lot about these kids, and I want people to recognize these kids. At the same time, I want people to understand that these are the kids that in many ways are going to reach out to the community and help lead this University through the next few years in many different ways in the community. Whether it’s Special Olympics, whether it’s THON, you know, child abuse organizations, all the things that we’re going to do, these are kids that will be part of that, and I want people to recognize it. But again, at the end of the day, to me going into this year, the most important patch on the uniform is the blue patch and blue ribbon that will signify putting an end to child abuse. To me, that is the most important patch on the uniform or wherever we’re going to put it.
However, opponents include another group of people I haven’t mentioned: ex-Nittany Lions players. One of the supposed reasons that there are no names on the jerseys is in recognition of those who had worn each number before the present player. (Cue up Aretha singing R-E-S-P-E-C-T…) Instead of retiring numbers of those who have singularly distinguished the uniform, as in the pro leagues, the number and the memory of those who wore it is preserved as an ongoing, living tribute to past gladiators. So, the player wearing the jersey merely rents it for the time he is wearing it.
But wait? Why stop at just no name on the jersey? Why not require players to play anonymously? Tell them that they’ll be recognized by number and year only. They ain’t no “I” in TEAM. Whassup wit dat?
Nahhhh, clearly I jest. Each generation on the field deserves to have its heroes and an occasional Morelli. We’ll associate their numbers with their names whether or not there’s a name on their back. The bigger the star, the longer we’ll remember the number. However, the average players on each team deserve a little recognition, too, particularly at this inflection point in Penn State history. And so, this Turkey welcomes the change. I’ll even welcome the blue ribbon, which is the penance the players have to bear for the — well, some of us don’t think it’s a settled matter yet — matter involving various entities implicated in the Sandusky scandal, which include lots of suspects, none of which is the football team. Call it a Penn State guilt ribbon if you wish.
But you see, the uniform change means so much more than just adding a name on the back and a ribbon on the front. It means a whole change in football philosophy at Penn State. To Mark Emmert of the NCAA, it can be a symbol of abandoning the old order while capitulating to his draconian sanctions, if that is what he wishes for it to be. He’s a self-interested dick, so it would fit that he takes some credit. More importantly, to Bill O’Brien, it signals a new beginning, as it should be.
If you were to bring in a new coach, hand him the reins to the team, and then tell him what he can’t do with it, you’d be emasculating him from the start. Frankly, I want to see changes. I know we will see changes. Welcome changes on the field. That’s where the important changes will be made, not in the haberdashery department.
For example, how long have you been pining for the Sandusky/Bradley soft cover three prevent BBDB defense to be replaced by something that updates the defensive strategy to the 21st Century? My answer is too damn long! I’m tired of bitching about it season in, season out, ad nauseam. Well, friends, say farewell to that abomination. May it stay behind bars with Sandusky for the rest of his days. We might actually see cornerbacks trained to cover receivers instead of laying five yards off them at all times — maybe even a bump at the line of scrimmage, for a change. Aren’t you looking forward to that?
How about O’Brien’s plans for the offense? “We’re going to play faster,” is what is coming out of everyone’s mouth. Let me once again ask how long you’ve been waiting to see plays run fast enough to confuse the hell out of the defense? Hell, you’d probably be happy just to see plays getting off on time, for a change. The stupid communication system that has caused so many delay of game and false start penalties is out the window. Hallelujah!
It all goes together. If you’re an optimist, you give O’Brien the wherewithal to manage his team, confident that he will do his job well and the changes will make it that much better. If you’re a pessimist, you give him enough rope to hang himself. Either way, he’s got to be given a decent, one-year honeymoon, a free ride during which he can do everything his way and not have firebob.net popping up on Internet searches just yet.
In my mind, repudiation of the uniform change is akin to repudiating O’Brien — the damn new guy on the block wants to change everything! Next thing you know, fans will be demanding that O’Brien wear thick glasses and rolled-up khakis on the sidelines for games. For youse guys, your security blanket will be knowing that Johnson and Vanderlinden will be there on the sidelines as a link to the treasured past, at least for this year. Otherwise, don’t expect a lot of comfortable familiarity in the conduct of the team. It would be much less traumatic for you if you were to embrace the changes. You’ll save what you would have spent on Xanax.
Moving right along, one of O’Brien’s responses to a questioning reporter at Media Day cracked me up. It involved what the coaches were doing to limit defections and keep the roster together.
“There were a lot of individual conversations that I had with individual players; those … things I’ll keep between myself, my team, and those individual players. But again, the common phrases are unity, one team, sticking together, commitment, education, 108,000, TV, a great weight room, chance to develop as a player. So these were things that we spoke to the team quite a bit about.”
Remember that, folks: unity, one team, sticking together, commitment, education, 108,000, TV, a great weight room, …
Anyhow, if you want to read the entire transcript for the press conference, it is on Gopsusports.com.