PASADENA, Calif. - Thanks, USC.
Seriously, thanks for flaying Penn State in the Rose Bowl, and doing the same to the Big Ten's only shot at hosing down its filthy reputation this bowl season. That's awesome. It's like Christmas come late, or really, really early, depending on how you look at it.
As a newly minted Southern Californian, I can't think of a better gift than having to wake up every morning and hear about how the Trojans throttled the Nittany Lions. Sweet.
Of course, I could avoid all that by not listening to the radio or watching television, but that's not my style. It's a pill I'll gladly swallow, because the flip side of the coin is soooo much fun. Don't believe me? Try dropping this line on a Buckeye fan:
You guys have never beaten an SEC team in a bowl game.
I feel their pain. I mean, we haven't beaten one in, like, two years.
So yes, even though I knew this Rose Bowl was probably going to play out like it did, I still wanted to embrace the experience. Which I did.
We had a group of four people driving over in my car, and circumstances delayed our arrival at the stadium until a couple hours before kickoff. But this is Penn State. We could show up five minutes before the game and still out-tailgate anyone in the country.
Once we found our parking spot and unloaded, we headed over to the stadium. During the trek, I traded (non-profane) verbal bombs with fans decked out in USC colors:
The Tennessee Titans have the NFL's best record. Their quarterback graduated from where? And don't forget about their backup. You remember him, don't you?
This is a great matchup. Two great teams, two great coaches, both 11-1, both beat Oregon State er, wait.
The only "SC" we know is "State College." What's USC, the University of Spoiled Children? (That one's a classic.)
Playing bowl games outside of California is awesome. You should try it sometime.
The only passes Matt Leinart is completing these days are off the field.
As a member of the media, I never get to do this kind of stuff. Most of the Penn State games I've attended have been in that capacity - in fact, I think this was only the seventh or eighth time I've ever gone as a fan.
It was always in the back of my mind that USC would unleash its battalion of five-star recruits on us like Dan Fouts unleashes his PAC-10 homerism during telecasts. Therefore, I had to unleash all my best lines about USC while I still could.
Once we got to our seats, which were in the Penn State section, we took in the sights and sounds of the pregame. Both bands were excellent, and the stealth jet that did the pregame flyover looked way too expensive and top-secret to be carelessly flaunted at a college football game. Cloris Leachman even made an appearance, which prompted one of my buddies watching on TV to text me, "Haha, Cloris Leachman."
The seats were solid, and the fans around us were cordially passionate. The only problem was a middle-aged simp wearing a Troy Polamalu USC jersey a few rows in front of us who made a point of rubbing in every single thing the Trojans did well.
If you talk trash by saying something intelligent and well-formulated, I love it. If you're just whining and cussing like Philip Rivers when he faces the Broncos, then you're lame. Super lame.
Even more lame was how Penn State melted down in the second quarter. Between our high-powered offense, staunch defense, strong special teams and solid coaching, we were arguably the most balanced and disciplined team in the country. Several stupid penalties in the second quarter nullified that distinction, and Mark Sanchez hit big pass plays in the pocket, outside of the pocket and with Nittany Lions in his hip pocket.
Bonjour, 24-point halftime deficit.
A lot of people are over-praising Penn State for not giving up. Sure, I'm glad we fought 'til the end, but once you reach middle school, it's time to stop patting athletes on the back for something they should do anyway.
This group of seniors wouldn't have it any other way. They began their careers by going 11-1, winning the Big Ten and then winning the Orange Bowl, and ended by going 11-2, winning the Big Ten and reaching the Rose Bowl, with a pair of 9-4 seasons under Albatross Morelli sandwiched in between.
They richly deserved the applause they received after the Rose Bowl, even in defeat. They restored Penn State as a national power, and we know we've got at least a puncher's chance in every game from here on out.
For now, though, I'm still recovering from the punches landed by the University of Supreme College football.
Former Sentinel assistant sports editor Joey Gulino, a Penn State alumnus who attended Thursday's Rose Bowl game, now writes for the Santa Clarita (Calif.) Signal.