For The Love of The Game

JULY 28, 2014

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Kerry Collins pushed me.

-Drew Grossman, 1994

Outside a banquet hall in the Toftrees hotel, a brother and a sister stand at the ready.

Inside that banquet hall, pre-game brunch is underway for 60 Penn State football players. Sixty of the country’s top players on the country’s top team are heaping the last helpings of bacon and eggs and pancakes and God-knows-what-else onto their plates. And when they’re done, when the players filter out into the hotel’s corridor, a brother and sister will be waiting for them.

They’re there for autographs. So when Kerry Collins, the team’s star quarterback, makes his way into the hall, he signs their collectible footballs. On his way out, the Penn State legend-in-the-making playfully shoves the brother.

The rest, as they say, is history.

For the brother reports back to his parents: “Kerry Collins pushed me.”

***

My family still repeats that refrain, like it’s a chorus.

Kerry Collins pushed me.

It’s a joke, of course. Kerry Collins didn’t actually mean to push my brother. But when a 6’5”, 240-pound, 21-year-old behemoth offers a playful shove? Well, said 7-year-old brother goes flying into the hotel wall.

Of course, it’s not the shove (push?) that matters. It’s that my family remembers, 20 years later. With Penn State as the backdrop, my family remembers a lot.

Call us crazy. (You’re allowed. In 2006, we drove 10 hours to South Bend to watch the Nittany Lions take on Notre Dame. Penn State lost 41-17. We didn’t learn our lesson. Two weeks later, we trekked seven hours to Columbus for the Ohio State game. We lost again, 28-6.)

Call us misguided. (And you might have a point. When Penn State faced off against Miami in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl—and de facto national championship—my mom was pregnant with my younger brother. With Penn State clinging to a slim lead and the Canes going for it on fourth-and-championship, my dad threatened to turn off the television because my mom was hyperventilating.)

Call us what you want.  I call us better for it. Penn State is our backdrop and, because it is, we have an entire family history—memories and stories and did-we-really-do-that-moments—that will never not make me smile. That will always leave me certain that my life is fuller, and happier, and sillier because I have my Penn State-crazed family in it.

Because I remember that time in 1998 that my mom came to watch my high school field hockey game on a fall Saturday. Sitting in the bleachers, she had with her a small, portable TV so she could see me play (there wasn’t much to see, as I’m no athlete) and not miss the Penn State game. Distracted by the football game, she fell off the bleachers. She literally plummeted five feet to the ground.

Because I remember sitting in a too-quiet Beaver Stadium in 1999. Chock full of future Nittany Lion legends—LaVar Arrington,Courtney Brown and Brandon Short—Penn State saw its championship dreams vanish when a Minnesota squad pulled off an improbable upset. I felt gutted after that game. Like if you cracked me open, you’d find I was hollow. But even the agony got folded into family lore.

Because I remember Tamba Hali sacking Troy Smith in 2005, and looking only for my dad to celebrate Penn State’s return to big-time football after six excruciating years spent mostly floundering.

Because, three months after that, I remember driving to the Orange Bowl with my parents and brother. It was still two hours until game time, but we were at a dead stop in bumper to bumper traffic en route to the stadium. My dad implored me to stop hyperventilating about potentially missing kickoff.  (Like mother, like daughter.)

Because I remember these things and look forward to remembering all the Penn State stories that are still to come.

And because one day, I hope there will be another brother and sister outside a banquet hall in Toftrees hotel, standing at the ready. I can’t wait for the next Kerry Collins to push them.

 

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