The second largest crowd to watch a football game at the new Yankee Stadium speaks volumes for the future of the New Era Pinstripe Bowl and possibly for more major college games in the Bronx. Penn State could be a part of that plan and more importantly their bowl game win over Boston College repaired the fractures of a wounded football program.
It has been a difficult period for the Nittany Lions and their fans. The NCAA leveled severe sanctions after a much profiled sex abuse scandal dominated the headlines over football, and this was their first bowl game appearance in two years. Many said the football program should have been banned, but that would not have been fair play for the many and outstanding student athletes that come and go.
That is all in the past. A championship atmosphere and playing on a field where champions have had more than one memorable moment can immediately be the best remedy for damage control. But the significance and triumphant moment of this win was still overshadowed by the scandal.
The question was asked Saturday night to the victorious and first year coach James Franklin: “You were going to being back Penn State football to its former glory?”
“I think we’ve been fractured,” Franklin commented. “We’ve been fractured in the last probably three years. But I think experiences and games like this has restored the hope. I believe when Penn State is together we’re all pulling the rope in the same direction. Doing what’s best for the students, doing what’s best for the players, doing what’s best for the community as a whole, then the sky is very high at Penn State.”
That overtime touchdown pass to Kyle Carter from Christian Hackenberg, and the game winning extra point that Sam Ficken kicked was best for all because Penn State and their community came together in the Bronx Saturday evening with their 31-30 win.
Ficken, a senior, sent the game into overtime with 20 seconds left to play with a 45-yard field goal that went into Monument Park, a home of memories for the illustrious ballplayers and dignitaries who signify the old and new Yankee Stadium as an iconic ballpark.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better ending for my career,” he said. “It’s a storybook ending, really. I couldn’t have written a better way to go. This team has worked so hard and fought so hard. And to say we went to a bowl, first of all, and then won that bowl. It’s just really incredible.”
Incredible as it sounds, it is the reality that a damaged and tarnished Penn State program got the win they needed to be respectable again. The Pinstripe Bowl may not be a major bowl game though the Nittany Lions certainly made it look like one.
Ficken used the locker of retired captain Derek Jeter in the Yankees clubhouse. He said that was emotional and also an inspiration to get this win. The inspiration to get a win that meant so much for this Penn State football program.
“It was a football stadium tonight and an awesome one,” Franklin said when asked about playing in a baseball stadium and the game ending with an extra point that went his way.
For the victorious Nittany Lions, that jog to greet their loyal supporters in the outfield and reaching to touch them over the Yankees dugout, well that was eliminating pain of the past few years.
Hackenberg threw four touchdown passes. Seven seniors and 31 freshmen he played with were reminded of the great culture their football program had over the years. A scandal that will also be recounted time and time again may never be healed.
But one kick on a December night in the Bronx possibly ended the fracture for the Penn State football program.