Last weekend was arguably the dumbest thing I could ever do as a sports fan. I gave up on one of my favorite teams. The initial plan was to travel to my alma mater, Penn State, to see the football team at home against Michigan. There were many factors as to why I changed my mind. Number one; Stubhub had that game going for over $180 minimum. Number two; I was also hoping to catch Penn State’s first ever Division I hockey game at the new Pegula Ice Arena and stubhub tickets were ALSO going for over $180 minimum. Number three; this would have been my third straight weekend out of town after traveling to New York and Cincinnati in the last two weeks. Call it an excuse, but I still haven’t trained myself for that kind of energy. Number four; isn’t it obvious how productive I have been getting all those NHL preview posts on time? Finally, number five; the Nittany Lions disgraced themselves last week by losing to Indiana for the first time in their program’s history.
With all my friends either at the game or with other plans, I decided that rather than watching the Michigan game in my bedroom, by myself, I decided to hang out with a couple of co-workers for Saturday’s Capitals-Avalanche game. Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t because I shrugged my shoulders and said to myself “I have nothing to do, let’s do something to get out of the townhouse”. One of my co-workers is a huge Avalanche fan since the days of Sakic, Roy and Forsberg. We hoped to watch a matchup between our two favorite teams for a while and we were finally able to do so. Despite my prediction about Colorado, I expected them to be, arguably, the most fun team to watch in the NHL. Plus, my co-workers are cool people to hang out with. You can’t turn down an opportunity like that.
While watching the pregame skate on the Avalanche side of the rink, I couldn’t help but be in awe with how close I am to such a wealth of great talent. If I wanted to, I could find a way to get a chainsaw into the Verizon Center, cut a hole through the plexiglass, walk up to Semyon Varlamov, kiss him on the cheek facemask and welcome him back to DC after three memorable seasons. I heard the loud bangs from multiple slap shots from any of Colorado’s exciting forwards, especially the timid looking Gabriel Landeskog and his horrific shooting percentage for a player that shoots that much. I could see big Patrick Bourdeleau and couldn’t help but see the resemblance of him and Bobby Cannavale.
Lastly, anytime you have the opportunity to see hockey players without their helmets, it is your duty as a fan to stare at the team’s best player for the majority of the time. Matt Duchene has received plenty of hype since he was drafted in 2009 and when you watch him warm up, you understand why. His puck handling is at a tier not that far away from Pavel Datsyuk’s as he juggled that biscuit high in the air with his stick and trying Datsyukian shootout moves on Varlamov. He has the looks of J.T. Woodruff of Hawthorne Heights and the presence that is similar to Alex Ovechkin’s when he is driving to the net, but at four inches and 30 pounds lighter. What he practiced clearly worked during that game as he went by Karl Alzner like a traffic cone (hey Karl, I know your mustache is world class, but would it kill you to put the body on some players for once?), extended his arms to the left as far as he could and was shockingly able to roof a shot passed Michal Neuvirth for his only goal of the night.
The Capitals went on the embarrass themselves and lose 5-1. A penalty kill that initially looked more aggressive this season, went back to standing like statues. Once again, nobody outside of Alex Ovechkin wanted to say “f#ck it” and put the puck on net 3-5 times until the puck bruised Varlamov inside the net. Once again, Washington’s forwards had no clue what the definition of “crashing the net” is. Once again, the absolute lack of development in the depth of our blue line reared its ugly head. After my co-workers and I said goodbye, it was a metro ride that I would have rather been in some sort of a coma than remember that type of performance.
And while all of that went on, State College was in absolute delirium!!! Even typing that last sentence felt like one of the biggest understatements in Penn State football history. Since events after the infamous arrest of ex-defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, Penn State fans either were in protest of the sanctions handed out by the NCAA or believed the next four to six seasons were meaningless years for the program as a result of said sanctions. Crowds of what used to be a raucous 107,000 on a regular basis turned into an apathetic 90,000-95,000. Sure, plenty of top football programs would die to have a fan base like that, but watching Penn State wasn’t the same as it was when I was there. Football teams like Ohio and Central Florida began beating us. We can’t ignore that these teams had a top tier player or two, but teams from that low quality of athletic conferences shouldn’t EVER beat us, sanctions or no sanctions.
Most importantly, the identity of Penn State is gone. Sure, it is what happens when you lose a coach after 40+ years of service, but Penn State was known for their ferocious defense. During my years there, we had Puz, Sean Lee and NaVarro Bowman at linebacker, sack masters like Tamba Hali, Maurice Evans (minus the weed) and the anorexic Aaron Maybin and defensive tackles like Jay Alford, Jared Odrick, Devon Still and Jordan Hill.
After Indiana made history on us, I gave up. The remainder of Penn State’s schedule had Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Nebraska. All four teams are, on paper, better than the Nittany Lions and Penn State had to win at least two games in order to maintain some form of national relevance. The Michigan game did just that as millions of viewers and over 100 recruits watched the game. The Nittany Lions shocked everyone and raced into a shocking 21-10 lead at the half. The same defense that gave up 44 points to Indiana were flying to the football and playing like it was 2009.
All of a sudden, Michigan outscored Penn State 24-3 in a 19 minute span. The excitement iin of the stadium was all but gone until the last three minutes of the game. Despite Brady Hoke bringing the Wolverines back to their standards, his play calling was disgraceful all game long. Rather than realizing that Devin Gardner’s running ability is the best way for Michigan to move the football, Hoke kept calling for runs to Fitz Toussant, who was terrible all game long. Also, rather than call one of their TWO timeouts and kick a field goal that would have put the game away, Hoke decided to take a delay of game penalty and pooch punt to Penn State with about a minute to go. The punt went for a touchback, and a freshman quarterback had to drive Penn State 80 yards for the game tying score.
Because of the transfers and lack of scholarship players since November 2011, Christian Hackenberg is the starting quarterback as a true freshman. However, he is a man among boys with his Colin Firth looks and his Andrew Luck talent. Color analyst Matt Millen constantly compared him to Tom Brady for all four hours, but you could understand after that drive. In three consecutive plays, he threw balls that were in windows that only a top tier NFL quarterback can make. The first one was to star wideout Allen Robinson that had him stretch out of bounds but gave him the ability to at least one foot in bounds while making the catch. The next was through two defensive backs and into the hands of Brandon Felder. Next came the play that will go down in Penn State lure. Hackenberg lobbed it deep for 36 yards to his go-to man, Robinson. As the ball came close to him, Michigan’s freshman corner Channing Stribling tried to make the interception. He missed and Robinson jumped less than a half-second later than Stribling to make the catch and land on his back at the one yard line. Beaver Stadium exploded in rapture, but they had to score the game tying touchdown.
They did, but Michigan was driving for a potential game winning field goal afterwards. This leads to our final character, Brendan
Gibbons. Two years ago, Gibbons made the game winning field goal in overtime to beat Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. He proclaimed that his method to handle the pressure of a game winning kick was thinking about brunette girls. Apparently, it did not work this night as he missed a 52-yarder to end the game. In fact, throughout all the overtimes in which both offenses could not move the ball anymore, Gibbons had two chances to win the game. He missed both. After Gibbons was able to make one in the fourth overtime, Penn State had the chance to tie the game with a field goal of their own on fourth and one. Head coach Bill O’Brien decided to go for it. “I don’t know if our kids could go much longer there” said O’Brien after the game. “They had given us everything they had. The tanks were empty and I said ‘eventually somebody has got to go for it.’ So I decided to go for it.” On fourth and one, running back Bill Belton squirmed through the piles of lineman and got the first down. Three plays later, Penn State failed to convert on third down with another throw to Robinson, except it was called back for pass interference. Automatic first down. On the next play, Belton rushed to the left and scored the game winner. It was all over. The sea of white went bonkers. To many it was considered the greatest home game in a generation. To me, Ohio State 2005 was the greatest I have ever seen live, but it’s safe to say that Michigan 2013 would have, at least, made a strong counter to that argument…if I went to that game.
It is one of the many examples of why no matter what happens, you have to stay loyal to your teams. Almost everyone understands that supporting your teams is a journey. Throughout your life, your team suffers major lows and experiences major highs. A week after the Caps got smashed by Colorado, they would smash Columbus. They may have six standings points in eight games, but the Metropolitan division has been terrible outside of Pittsburgh. All the Caps need is a nice winning streak and before you know it, they will be back to where they should be. It always goes to show that when you see your team finally accomplish their goals, it makes those victories that much sweeter.