Franklin shows how good rivalry can be
I usually spend this column looking ahead to Penn State’s next opponent or weekly story lines, but despite what James Franklin says, no one in the world considers playing Georgia State like the Super Bowl.
So, let’s take one last look back at that doozy of a comment Franklin tossed out about how beating Pitt is like beating Akron.
Here’s the exact quote following Saturday’s 33-14 PSU victory:
“I know last year for their win, it was like the Super Bowl,” Franklin said of the Panthers. “But for us, this was just like beating Akron.”
OK, so did Franklin mean to get in a not-so-subtle dig at Pitt, or was he merely reinforcing his philosophy that PSU treats every win like a huge win?
Yes. And yes.
He said people could interpret what he was saying any way they want, so here’s my interpretation: Franklin’s two points were not meant to be mutually exclusive, meaning both can be true because they are unrelated.
There are people in the Penn State camp who did not like the way Pitt’s players, fans and coaches acted after last year’s 42-39 win over the Nittany Lions.
Panthers tight end coach Tim Salem went so far as to get a keychain made that reads “Pitt 42 PSU 39” and the date of last year’s game. He proudly posted a picture of it on Twitter in February.
If you think that didn’t get under the skin of some PSU folks, think again.
Running backs coach and special teams coordinator Charles Huff tweeted this Saturday:
“33>14…No Key Chains needed…on to the next RIVALRY game…GA State.”
Even Saquon Barkley admitted he “felt disrespected” after last year’s game.
“Just how the Pitt fans reacted,” he said. “There’s a point where you can take it to, and I think they took it too far.”
Defensive end Shareef Miller had this to say to StateCollege.com: “I’ll never forget last year walking out of that stadium, the fans and the types of stuff they said when we walked off.”
Maybe you initially didn’t think Franklin was trying to diss Pitt with his one liner. But after reading the comments above, have you changed your mind?
The bottom line about his “Super Bowl” remark as it pertains to Pitt is that Franklin said people can interpret it any way they want, and you can be certain that the Panthers side views it as a slight.
The bigger issue to me is this: So what?
So what if he dissed Pitt, subtly over overtly?
So what if anyone on either team says something that the other side doesn’t like?
That’s how it should be. Sports are better when there’s actual bad blood between teams. College rivalries are better if the two sides talk some smack. (One of the greatest lines ever was when Michigan running back Mike Hart called Michigan State “little brother,” and look what it did for that rivalry.)
Just don’t tiptoe around the subject for the sake of being politically correct or avoiding giving bulletin board material. Own up to your trash talk.
Franklin followed up his Pitt Super Bowl line by saying that, for PSU, the win meant the same as beating Akron.
“I’ve been saying for two years that each win is like the Super Bowl for us.” he added.
The Super Bowl part is way, way over the top and silly, but Franklin is correct in his assertion that every win carries great importance. He and his staff hammer that point home to the players so that they don’t take anyone lightly or don’t get too amped up for any one game, and the strategy has worked very well.
Penn State is the defending Big Ten champ and the No. 5 team in the country. So Franklin has earned every benefit of the doubt when it comes to how he motivates his players.
Do the rest of us have to honestly believe that a game against Georgia State is like the Super Bowl? C’mon.
But that doesn’t matter. In a results-oriented sport, as long as the PSU players believe it and are successful with that approach, then so be it.
Honestly, the only part of all this that’s disappointing is Franklin seems to flat out refuse to acknowledge that Pitt is a rival. It makes sense, I guess, when you consider his approach of treating every game like a big game, but it comes across as disrespectful to the fan bases of both teams.
As colleague Neil Rudel pointed out, Pitt-Penn State means a great deal to a lot of people. Beaver Stadium had its largest crowd in eight years Saturday night. The game makes national headlines because of the rivalry’s great tradition.
It’s a shame that Franklin is so locked into his regimented “every game is the Super Bowl” approach that he won’t allow himself to even say the word rivalry when it comes to Pitt. It shouldn’t be a surprise, though, for a program whose slogan is “Unrivaled.”
I’m actually not someone who believes Penn State and Pitt should play every year. That would be fun to see, sure, but it’s just not realistic or in PSU’s best interests given the logistics of college football scheduling nowadays.
The Lions and Panthers are halfway through their four-year series resumption, and so far we’ve seen a lot. Pitt knocked PSU out of the College Football Playoff last season, the Lions got their revenge this year, and both sides have gotten a little ticked off at the other at times.
There are only two more meetings scheduled, and beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess when Pitt and Penn State will play again.
Which is a shame, because the way things have gone so far and the bad blood that’s already been built up, one can very easily see how this could become a great rivalry once again.
Cory Giger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.