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August 28, 2012By Nate Bauer
Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien made it through his first weekly press conference for the 2012 season Tuesday afternoon at Beaver Stadium, safe and sound, seemingly still sane.
Words and phrases like 'emotions', 'more than football', 'traditions', 'moving on', and 'running through the tunnel' were all tossed about with the same frequency they've been since November.
"How does getting back to football this first game Saturday help the team and perhaps the school move forward after what happened this off‑season?"
"You just said that Saturday is about football.?How will you define success of this season for yourself and for the team?"
"Do you feel the team is carrying the torch for more than themselves based on everything they've been through and the fact that it's now the opener?"
At the risk of putting words in O'Brien's mouth: Enough.
Considering the circumstances, reporters are writing for an audience craving the positive human interest side of a still tragic story.
What was once a vilified institution is now a team of warriors that stuck together when times got tough. Everyone likes an underdog, and in this Penn State football team, everyone is going to get one worth pulling for.
All eyes are on Penn State, O'Brien and his players are aware of this, and, in terms of a collective psyche, there is more riding on this game than just a win for the entire community.
Fair enough, but as O'Brien made overwhelmingly clear Tuesday afternoon, the stories that are driving the national narrative about Penn State football right now are not remotely similar to the primary goals within the Lasch Building.
Namely, winning a darn football game.
O'Brien hasn't done it as a head coach even once in his career. He wants to get one just to get one, because he's hyper competitive and has dedicated his life to winning football games, not because a single win can magically heal an entire community scarred by a child sex abuse scandal.
The senior class, so full of courageous young men who have ingrained themselves in Penn State football history, wants to win football games. Underclassman teammates, the same. Mostly because they have spent countless hours on the practice field this summer, perfecting their crafts the same way they've done every offseason before this.
"Every time we go out, whether it's a practice or a game, we're going to go out there with the expectation to win," O'Brien responded to one of the questions. "Does that mean that we're going to win every single game we play??No. The expectation is to go out there and play your best, play smart, play hard, play clean, respect your opponent, and to do the best you can to win the game.?
"If we don't win the game, then we go back, we review the film, we correct the mistakes, and we get back to practice the next week and get ready for the next opponent.
"But the expectation, as long as I'm the head football coach here, as it's always been, the expectation is to go out there and win, and I'd say that would be the same for every football program in America.?So that's what we're going to try to do."
The questions aren't going to stop anytime soon, but Saturday represents an opportunity for Penn State's fan base to finally shift its focus onto something other than scandal.
Certainly, seeing this group of beleaguered players - now with names on the backs of their jerseys - go out and take the field, compete and represent themselves as positive ambassadors of the university, is going to be a very special sight for many Penn State fans at Beaver Stadium. And, to a certain extent, the greater national audience will tune in to see for itself how Penn State has changed, if at all, since first taking an interest in the story more 10 months ago.
But, like a traffic jam due to rubbernecking, the immediacy of the event will pass and interest will eventually wane as it relates to 'the aftermath.'
Instead, these players can finally do what they've wanted to do from the start: play football, get a degree, have some fun with their friends, have a positive impact on the community and, for a select few that excel, possibly turn the game into a profession after their eligibility runs out.
These are the things Penn State football players have been doing for 125 years, and, regardless of anything that's happened in the past year, they are the things Penn State football players intend to do for the foreseeable future, regardless of Saturday's outcome.
"Saturday is about a football game," O'Brien said.?"I think overall we've just got to continue to do a great job here with our players of making sure that they go to class, that they're respectful on campus, that they graduate, that they do the best job they can as students, and then play as good a football as they can.
"And then when we ask them to, we think it's really important to get involved in the community, because people really want to meet these guys.?People want their help.? Our guys want to be involved in the community.
"So I think as far as Saturday goes, Saturday is about football, a great college football game between really two solid, really good football teams, and that's what Saturday is about.?But then as we move forward, we've got to continue the mission of good student athletes that graduate, that are involved in the community."
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