The first Penn State memory I have was the stein. It proudly sat on the bookshelf in the family room. "Class of 1972," it read. I had no idea what the words meant… but somehow I knew what the stein itself meant.
My next memory? January 2, 1987. The Fiesta Bowl. Second time I ever saw my dad get teary. (The first was when he picked me up at kindergarten to tell me my grandfather had died.)
After that? A graduation gift. My acceptance letter from Penn State, framed. On the back, in my father's inscrutable handwriting:
"I am so proud of you."
There were a lot of other things. Meeting and falling in love with my wife. Proposing on the lawn at Old Main. Celebrating at The Diner. Drunkenly predicting that Penn State would return to glory in 2005 on the heels of a dismal 4-7 season. (I still have the index card I wrote it on to prove it.) Dressing my son as the Nittany Lion for Halloween. Hoping I could share what I loved so much about my alma mater… and that he'd want to continue my family's legacy.
And now I don't know how much of that stuff is gone forever.
One other thing, seemingly so innocuous at the time, sticks out now. I worked as a host in a chain seafood restaurant just outside of town. A coworker taps me on the shoulder. "Holy shit, that's Jerry Sandusky." He asks for a table for two. The wait was an hour, maybe more.
He got the next table that opened up. He was very appreciative. I felt so cool.
And now, not to go all Rick Reilly on you, but I feel like an idiot. Part of the problem, right? The football-first culture?
So now I've got all these memories, and a football autographed by none other than Joe Paterno himself. And no idea what to do with any of it.