Some defeats are different, they just are.
Twenty years ago, I sat face-to-face with Arkansas AD Frank Broyles in Fayetteville when the subject of the 1969 “Game of the Century” was delicately broached.
Texas defeated Arkansas, 15-14, in that epic attended by President Richard Nixon.
Nixon afterward anointed Texas as national champions without ever consulting Penn State, which went undefeated that season.
Joe Paterno would later wonder, in a quip, how Nixon could know so little about Watergate, in 1973, but so much about football, in 1969.
The point is that Broyles, legendary coach of the 1969 Razorbacks, never got over the loss.
He told me he had never watched film of the Texas loss.
“We lost,” he said.
Broyles took that loss to his grave when he died, age 92, earlier this month.
Contrast that with last January at the Rose Bowl and the image of Coach James Franklin bouncing around the Penn State locker room after a heart-breaking, last-second defeat to USC.
Franklin was so upbeat in defeat he back-slapped a reporter (me) as he made the rounds.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
The weird part is that it didn't feel wrong.
What Penn State accomplished, in defeat, was one of the stories of the decade.
To win the Big Ten after all the program had endured warranted kudos and adulation.
Flashback: I remember standing at Joe Paterno’s grave in August of 2012 thinking many things but also this: Penn State football is also dead.
The sport had never seen a scandal like the poison Jerry Sandusky had produced and there would be no recovery, especially after NCAA President Mark Emmert tried to sanction Penn State back to the stone ages.
Thankfully, Emmert’s power play didn’t work. Many of the punitive penalties were rescinded and scholarships were handed back.
The hiring of Bill O’Brien to replace Paterno was brilliant, only bettered by the hiring of Franklin after O’Brien left for the NFL.
After two 7-6 seasons, Penn State busted loose last year for an 11-3 campaign made more remarkable that it came after a 2-2 start that included a 39-point loss to Michigan.
No wonder Franklin was bopping around the Rose Bowl grounds, even after a 52-49 loss.
The future, incredibly to many of us, never looked brighter. Franklin was rewarded with a new, six-year contract that will pay him $34.3 million.
The Nittany Lions return 10 offensive starters and star power at quarterback (Trace McSorley) and tailback (Saquon Barkley).
The non-conference schedule manageable with three straight home dates against Akron, Pitt and Georgia State before the Big Ten opener at Iowa. The crux of the campaign rests with a four-game stretch starting Oct. 7 at Northwestern, followed by Michigan, at Ohio State and at Michigan State.
The focus now is to manage expectations and maintain momentum. Franklin must build on success but not wallow in it.
"These points aren't going to carry over and these wins aren't going to carrier over," he said as camp began in August.
Few programs have had to have thicker skin. The good name of Penn State football has not been fully restored, nor has anyone forgotten why Sandusky is rotting in a jail cell.
Penn State players, as innocent bystanders, got pulled into a powerful vortex. It could not have been easy.
"I'm a big believer that you savor all of life's experiences," Franklin said.
For what it's worth, I'm wearing a Penn State t-shirt as I'm wiring this capsule. I bought it years ago, part of a larger college collection, but kept it stashed in a drawer after the Sandusky scandal. I dared not wear it to the gym for fear of having to answer for it.
That fear, thankfully, has subsided. Penn State has become top-drawer again.
Frankly, I never saw it coming.