Shortly after Ricky Slade crossed the goal line Friday night for his second touchdown of the season, national TV cameras panned to the running back on the sidelines — and set off the dumbest fan-made “controversy” in Penn State history.
Slade was wearing a gaudy “Lawn Boyz” necklace between two of his teammates, in recognition of his score, which gave PSU a 21-0 second-quarter lead over Maryland. Most fans shrugged — the nickname came because Penn State’s RBs eat up grass and yards — and then moved on in short order. Others?
It became enough of an issue among a vocal minority of fans that head coach James Franklin was asked about the issue Tuesday. He somehow managed not to roll his eyes.
“Ultimately, for me, I want to make sure that we’re playing a brand of football that people can really respect and a brand of football that our fans and our lettermen and our community can feel good about,” Franklin said, referring to his players’ conduct on and off the field. “And then I think you’ve got to allow them to have a little personality and some other things, as well, and kind of embrace that.
“It’s no different than, you know, as a dad of my two daughters. I can’t fight every battle, and I want my daughters to kind of have some personality and their own strengths and figure out their weaknesses, as well, and it’s the same thing with our team. ... So a little personality that may be different here, I’m good with.”
This is the university whose fan base was up in arms when former head coach Bill O’Brien put names on the back of the old-school nameless jerseys. It was a story when Penn State’s classic blue uniforms took on a patch for college football’s 150th anniversary. And it became a huge controversy when Penn State decided to retire John Cappelletti’s No. 22 jersey, despite Paterno opposing such individual recognition.
Tradition and history are important to most Penn State fans. And, for a vocal minority, gaudy chains don’t figure into that.
But Penn State’s players took to Twitter over the weekend to defend their decision to tote the chain. And safety Lamont Wade might’ve summed it up best.
“This is how we doing stuff now,” he tweeted. “Either rock with it or become a Temple, Pitt or Villanova fan. Respect tradition — clearly, that’s why my name’s not on the back of my jersey and my cleats are black every weekend. But this a new generation.”
Franklin tried to walk the tightrope Tuesday afternoon between defending his players and not angering an older fan base. But it was clear he wasn’t bothered by the “Lawn Boyz” chain.
No, he said, he doesn’t sign off on such things. But he doesn’t really need to; defensive line coach Sean Spencer didn’t ask him for permission when he decided to carry around an oversized bone for his “Wild Dogs,” on the defensive line, for example.
“I’ve got things that are probably more important on my list, than things like that, “Franklin said.
He added, “But I think, more importantly, it’s the overall culture. Our guys know what’s acceptable within our program and what’s not. ... I would hope now after six years that we have built up some credit with our fans, that they know that we’re putting a priority on academics and we’re putting a priority on community service and developing these young people to be leaders and tremendous husbands and fathers one day.
“And I think, for the most part, we’ve done a pretty good job of that.”
Culture doesn’t often move backward. So it looks as if Ja’Juan Seider’s “Lawn Boyz” chain and Sean Spencer’s dog bone for his “Wild Dogs” are here to stay.
Better get used to it.