Allen Robinson and Bill Belton slowly hinted via Twitter late Sunday night that they would no longer be playing football at Penn State.
The ominous-sounding messages began when Belton, the Nittany Lions' junior running back, Tweeted this: "Picking up and leaving is the toughest thing to do."
A short time later, Robinson came back with the full-on news.
"I love my bros, and we will continue to be like family, I'm sorry I had to do this but I will no longer be attending penn state," Robinson's first message read. "It was a tough decision for me and my cam but I think it is what's right much love and respect for the school."
Two minutes later, just minutes after midnight, the payoff:
Belton and Robinson aren't going anywhere, other than maybe to Bill O'Brien's office early Monday morning. Regardless of intent, O'Brien's response, unfortunately for the pair of jokesters, is probably going to be much less funny.
With even the remote hint of crisis averted - which is exactly what a pair of transfers from Penn State's star group of underclassmen would be - the gag becomes that much more interesting to talk about, and not only from the perspective of a (yes, I'll admit it) somewhat bemused journalist wondering what, exactly, was going on.
If the joke was aimed primarily at the media, then without question, this was a well-executed, highly-believable, and honestly, well-deserved piece of payback for what has been nine months of relentless questioning following the NCAA's sanctions in late-July.
"Have you considered transferring from Penn State?"
"What goes through your mind when deciding whether or not to stay at Penn State?"
"Even if you stay through the season, will you revisit your decision after it's over?"
These are the types of questions that Penn State's underclassmen, specifically the group of Robinson, Belton, Donovan Smith, Kyle Carter, Deion Barnes, and Adrian Amos, were faced with on a near-weekly basis. Though many of the players did their best to quash any rumor or innuendo that they were anything but committed to Penn State, each and every time a nugget of new information suggesting the opposite would come up, they'd face the same round of skepticism.
Though journalists have a job to do, even on a highly-competitive beat like Penn State's, an answer is an answer and, without some solid evidence to the contrary, simply needs to be accepted as fact until proven otherwise sometimes. Kids no older than 20-years old were, and still are, being asked to publicly paint themselves into a corner with no wiggle room for a change of heart down the road, regardless of the circumstances.
In this light, beyond the first round, the questions were often unfair and unnecessary. For that reason alone, Penn State's players deserve to be able to have some fun with the media on occasion. It's not the first time (remember Rich Ohrnberger pretending to be A.Q. Shipley on a conference call a few years ago?) and it certainly won't be the last.
Of course, with Twitter as the medium of delivery, the joke can't be contained to just its intended target. Even in a short span Sunday night, this revealed a few fascinating truths to Penn State fans, the media, and now, probably the players themselves.
Certainly, the relationship between fans/media and the players they follow/cover has never had less barriers. The advent and popularization of Twitter has allowed incredible access, to the benefit and detriment of nearly everyone involved.
At many football programs, athletes can speak for themselves, and unlike the inconsequential ramblings of a typical college student, every word posted on Twitter is given an incredible level of attention by fans and media alike. (Don't count on Penn State remaining one of those football program's after this stunt. O'Brien, quick to point out the dangers of "SpaceBook" and "Tweeter", seems to understand and dread the pitfalls of social media's misuse.)
Still, these are college students, and though their judgment may be lacking in some cases - especially this one, where Penn State fans have had a particularly challenging past 18 months - if the ultimate damage is a few bruised egos on Twitter, there are much worse things to get upset about.
For instance, the players themselves earned a front row seat to some of the truly abhorrent behavior some fans exhibit when allegiance to the "team" is broken. The defectors that took advantage of the NCAA's ridiculous transfer rule learned as much in July, but Belton and Robinson both received some "pointed" Tweets from fans that, after the gag was revealed, were followed by apologies or, worse, more hate for having put them through the gag in the first place.
In the context of something as truly inconsequential as winning and losing college football games, some of the vitriolic blowback from a crossed fan base is a lesson these players are unlikely to forget any time soon.
Of course, Penn State's strength and conditioning coach, Craig Fitzgerald, isn't likely to let them forget any other lessons from this practical joke anytime soon, either.
Already in Penn State's weight room by 4 a.m. most days anyway, supervising 5 a.m. disciplinary workouts for Sunday evening's fiasco probably wouldn't be much inconvenience. One just needs to imagine O'Brien's cell phone blowing up shortly before midnight on Easter Sunday to understand why.
For that thought alone, here's guessing that even while puking, keeled over a trash barrel after a few "run until you hurl" drills later this week, the joke will still be worth a few smiles.
In a sports/media environment that can sometimes be suffocatingly serious, a little levity could be a good thing, even in this somewhat misguided attempt at humor.