Maybe now the focus will be on the players rather than on the two championship coaches leading the teams. Maybe now we can concentrate on the game rather than on Joe Paterno's health.
There was nothing unhealthy about Joe Paterno's Pep Rally talk today at the Tampa Bay Convention Center in downtown Tampa. In fact, it was classic Joe Paterno - he was funny, engaging, and enjoying his ability to rev up the crowd with jokes about Gators with funny looking jaws and "We Are..." cheers.
Joe Paterno seems to be downplaying the team's chances - pointing for the nth time this season to how young they are - and trying to get them to just enjoy themselves and play a good game against Florida.
Which makes me wonder what he has up his sleeve. He's the best bowl prep coach around, even with or maybe because of his advanced age. And I wouldn't put it past him to have a game plan that will catch Florida and Urban Meyer unawares. There's nothing to lose, after all, and everything to gain.
I would assume that the purpose for this bowl game has been to prepare for the future. We all know that Joe Paterno is very excited about what this young team will be next year and the following. It is why he insists he will be back for at least one more year and has no intention of resigning.
Maybe now too ...after an entire week of shivering in Florida...we get what we came here for...some decent warm weather - predicted to be 77 degrees on New Year's Day - and one last chance to watch Penn State play this season and (maybe) win finally against the Florida Gators.
Penn State has played Florida only twice, and those games were more than 20 years apart. We lost to them 21-6 in the 1962 Gator Bowl and we lost again 17-7 in the 1998 Florida Citrus Bowl. We were there for that one and remember just a miserable effort against a Steve Spurrier-coached team. But now Florida has Urban Meyer as coach. This year there has only been one common opponent - Alabama - and both Penn State and Florida were completely dominated by the Crimson Tide.
Analysts better than I could run all sorts of stats comparing the two teams but that has never been my forte. I just think about the fact that we are a 7-5 team playing a 7-5 team. Two struggling teams with disappointing years that somehow wound up being rewarded with a New Year's Day bowl. Anything goes.
It will probably come down to intangibles - which team is more motivated to win. And preparation. And for both of those I would have to side with Penn State in a close one. Gut feeling. I could be wrong.
So here I am, sitting in a hotel room in Tampa, Florida on New Year's Eve writing this blog - soon we will have a New Year's Eve dinner and maybe if we have the energy and aren't too tired we will head outside to watch the fireworks channel-side in downtown Tampa. I can't remember the last time I actually saw fireworks on New Year's Eve! And these are right outside our hotel, so it's tempting.
Wherever you are tonight, please be careful about drinking and driving. We wish you a very Happy New Year!
Go Penn State and Beat the Gators!