On Sunday, I published a column written off the aftermath of Saturday’s Blue-White Game, in which Penn State head coach James Franklin insisted the Nittany Lions would have to put the 2016 Big Ten Championship win into their own personal history books, and firmly out of mind, if they wanted to attain even more lofty goals in 2017.
Franklin used the term “forget” to describe what the Nittany Lions have to do with that 2016 championship, and that’s probably a strong word. Franklin might admit that, too. It’s not possible to put a season like that in the past, after all. And to forget that it happened is to forget, largely, that it was accomplished in the first place. Sometimes — OK, most times — it’s best to feel like you’re the team that accomplished more than your opponent.
So, perhaps the personification of the mindset Penn State needs to take next season can best be summed up by an experience they had on Friday night, when the Nittany Lions players and coaches had an opportunity to be addressed by former linebacker Tim Shaw, who is currently battling Lou Gherig’s Disease.
“Tim Shaw came (Friday) and spoke to our team, and it may be one the greatest, most powerful speeches I’ve ever heard,” Franklin said. “As a father, my daughters will see this. We videotaped it. As a coach, it was the message you want your team to hear. Really, his message is that the disease he is fighting is a gift that he is given. He has been given the gift of perspective.”
On the surface, that might be difficult to comprehend. What Shaw is going through against ALS makes any football opponent pale in comparison. Anyone who has had a family member of friend afflicted with this horrible disease knows for sure.
But Shaw’s outlook on the life he is striving to maintain is sure to become a rallying point from a football perspective for a Penn State team that is looking for the right way, the proper words, to come to grips with the reality that 2016 magic is no guarantee to yield 2017 results.
“His perspective is, you live life the way you’re supposed to play the game of football — as if every play could be your last,” Franklin went on. “You should live that way. It was an unbelievable message to our team. It’s what we need to do in life, in the classroom, and on the football field. And, we’re not there yet.
“To be honest with you, not to many programs are. Not too many people are. But, that’s our goal. To live every second, to live every moment, to live every experience. … He challenged me to be a better father, when I’m with my wife and I’m with my kids, to be a better father. It’s a great message, to be present, to just be the best you can possibly be in everything you do.”
Players who heard Shaw’s speech raved about its impact.
“I was blown away,” Lake-Lehman product and current Penn State center Connor McGovern said. “Just, so inspired.”
McGovern said that Penn State will have to treat 2016 like the year the foundation for a championship run was set down, with 2017 and all subsequent years as the ones to build upon it. That’s the way he’ll view the separation between getting there and getting back, but it does make the point easier to see when Shaw’s story puts everything in black and white.
Yesterday doesn’t guarantee you tomorrow, and today is all that really matters.
“Seeing where that guy has gone, his journey, is incredible,” receiver DeAndre Thompkins said. “There are not too many guys who have that point of view in life, so to have someone with it, sitting right there in front of you, speaking that way, it weighs heavy on your heart. You look at that guy, and he was where I want to go. He’s done everything I’ve wanted to do, in the league. And it was just gone. Like that.
“I respect him so much, because he’s telling that story. So we know what to expect. So we know how to approach life, basically.”
Will all of that help Penn State’s players put 2016 into the proper perspective with a season in which they have much bigger dreams — and the much bigger target that comes with them? Who knows? It’s a life lesson, for sure, and one that can possibly be applied to football. Just something to think about.
But so much of 2017 is going to be about maintaining that proper perspective, about understanding the situation is different and that you only get the chances at greatness that you provide for yourself. That’s Tim Shaw’s gift of perspective, his message of being present — always being present –in every facet of life. Because to understand the importance of that is to understand the reality that every facet of life is a gift.
“That’s probably where we need to go,” Franklin said, “and we’ll be searching for that goal probably the rest of our lives.
“But, I still think we can get closer to it.”
Former Penn State linebacker Tim Shaw (left), poses with Paul Posluszny (31) and Dan Connor (40) before the 2006 season. Associated Press photo.