Sports have always been an integral part of my life. When I was little I played everything (except football and hockey because that’s what you get when both of your parents are medical professionals) – baseball, basketball, soccer, golf, tennis; you name it, I played it as long as it wasn’t a sport with a substantial head injury risk. As I got older, I started to limit myself a little bit more. In high school, soccer and golf were my thing, but I also wrestled in order to keep myself in shape in the offseason and I was a kicker on our football team because if being a high school kickoff man isn’t the most glorious position in sports, I don’t know what is. Come college, I played soccer and started to get into running, and now, I run competitively.
As much of a constant as competing has been for me, watching sports has been just as prominent. Growing up in the northeast, I’m a huge Boston sports fan (my girlfriend may say that it’s unhealthy, but what else am I going to do every Sunday afternoon), and some of my favorite memories growing up were going to sporting events. From watching the “big kids” play basketball at my future high school to going to old Foxboro to watch the Pats win an awesome game in the middle of a blizzard to watching the Worcester Icecats (#RIP) play very mediocre AHL hockey, going to sporting events were always a big deal. I’ve been extremely lucky with some of the events I’ve been able to go to: I watched all the big names play at the inaugural Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston; I watched the US women’s soccer team crush Mexico 9-0 in World Cup qualifying en route to winning the 1999 World Cup; I witnessed Tom Brady throw 5 first half touchdown while demolishing the Tim Tebow-led Broncos in the 2011 playoffs.
But nothing will ever compare to what I witnessed on Saturday night in Happy Valley.
Because I went to a tiny undergrad college (about half the size of my high school), I’ve become invested in Penn State sports since I started working for the school two and a half years ago. It’s nice to have someone to root for on Saturdays in the fall. Going to games is cheap and easy, and there’s really nothing like rooting for 75 kids who are all younger than you along with 100,000 other fans. So when Penn State returned the blocked field goal for a touchdown to take a lead against then-number 2 in the country THE Ohio State, things went nuts. Everybody in the stadium, obviously including me, lost their minds. Hugs, high fives, and some tears were being exchanged by everybody at game, and everyone’s heart rate skyrocketed.
The excitement was nothing like I’d ever felt before. I was standing there, with my tried-and-true tailgating buddies and with random strangers who I will never see again, shaking in my shoes, not believing what was happening. This upset was going to happen. For the next four and half minutes, as we all stood there shaking, still screaming ourselves horse until the final whistle blew and students and townies alike rushed the field, I felt something that I may possibly never feel again. The pure, raw excitement and ecstasy of having the team that you root for do something that was seemingly impossible was unrivaled. As a lifelong die-hard Patriots fan, I almost feel bad about how amazing this feeling was, as if I was cheating on my beloved Touchdown Tommy and Coach Belichick. None of their Super Bowl wins will ever come close to that feeling on Saturday night; not their first win in 2002 when Vinatieri knocked that 45-yard field home as time expired, and not in 2015 when Malcolm Butler made the greatest interception in Super Bowl history. While the magnitude of those games and plays was obviously higher, the visceral joy of remotely experiencing it through a television will forever put them at second-class status.
I understand that I didn’t even go to college here, nor have I been rooting for this team my whole life, nor is this even a game that will push the Nittany Lions into anything more than a potential B-list bowl game. But the sheer near-impossibility of what I witnessed live with one hundred thousand other fans all wanting the same thing is a unique feeling that is so unparalleled, I struggle to put it into words. The feelings that I’ve gotten from my athletic achievements and victories will more likely than not never come close to the perfection of emotion that I felt on Saturday night.
Even though I know I’ve reached the pinnacle of fandom is not going to stop me from keeping on cheering, knowing full well that I may never experience another third-party victory like I experienced over the weekend. No, if anything, I will root harder, hoping and praying that, despite all the odds, that nothing will ever come close to this upset. Because after all, isn’t that what being a fan is? .
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