Less than a week ago, most Penn State fans probably didn't even know what freshman quarterback Robert Bolden looked like. They entered Beaver Stadium last Saturday for the first time since they'd left after the Blue and White Game in April, likely convinced that either Matthew McGloin, Kevin Newsome or perhaps even Sto-Rox's Paul Jones would win the keys to the Nittany Lion offense.
Instead, they were greeted by an enigma wearing the No. 1 jersey on a sunny Central Pennsylvania afternoon. They were intrigued, but more than a little nervous that the best Joe Paterno could do this season was begin a season with a starting freshman quarterback after never before doing so in 44 years.
Yet there he stood, a lanky 18-year-old from Michigan, ready to lead Happy Valley into a new decade of football.
That same day, wildly popular senior running back Evan Royster took the field for his final home opener in blue and white. He's been a staple of the Nittany Lion backfield for so long, it's hard to believe he's still there.
He's won bowl games and accolades, and accomplished almost everything he can in a Penn State uniform aside from breaking Curt Warner's school record for rushing yards, which he'll surely do at some point this season, barring injury. He's a known quantity, and the face of the program.
Two players, two vastly different perceptions.
Tomorrow, though, they'll both be able to seize the opportunity to go from a star of today to a legend of tomorrow with 60 minutes of football in Tuscaloosa.
Beyond the here and now, Penn State-Alabama is probably one of the most anticipated games in years for both schools simply because of tradition. Penn State is the 28-time winner of the Lambert-Meadowlands Trophy for Eastern football supremacy. Alabama is the pride of the South, claiming 13 national championships. Penn State's blue and white and Alabama's crimson are both iconic, unmistakeable uniforms.
The game is a special one in every sense of the word.
As if that weren't enough, Alabama is the near-unanimous No. 1 of the present in the polls, and the defending national champion. It boasts a Heisman-winning running back in its backfield and an undefeated college quarterback behind center. The SEC has won conference supremacy in recent years, too, winning the last four national championships while the Big Ten has found itself on the other side of a couple of those lickings.
Make no mistake, pride is at stake tomorrow. Pride in the past, pride in the present, and pride in the future. And Alabama is expected to win it with ease.
But they still have to play the game, which brings us back to Bolden and Royster.
The stars have aligned for this unlikely pair. The eyes of the college football world will be cast upon them with few to no expectations. Even Paterno has used the word "outmanned" to describe the Lions' chances, and called Nick Saban's squad the best team Penn State has faced since the 1987 Fiesta Bowl ... when it upset prohibitive favorite and No. 1 Miami to win the national championship.
Legends aren't made when greatness is expected. Heroes aren't born in expectations. Icons aren't forged without doubt. They become a part of history when they topple seemingly insurmountable odds in contests for the ages.
Bolden and Royster have a chance to win a piece of immortality if Penn State can knock off the champs in their house before a national audience. The million reasons why Penn State won't win this game have been discussed all summer, but by 11:00 P.M. tomorrow, none of them will matter if these two can rally their teammates to an unlikely win.