There is no way to describe what Mike Mauti means to this Penn State team. He gave the program a backbone this summer when all seemed disjointed, everyone seemed dejected and perhaps everything was at brink of falling apart. He convinced underclassmen to stay. He lead by example,playing gritty, determined football every game this season - that is, until this game.
When Mauti left the Indiana game with a knee injury, it was a cruel ending to an epic collegiate career. Really, Mauti is the stuff of legends. The linebacker is a quiet leader. He doesn’t like the attention. He plays with a chip on his shoulder, but he plays with class. He embodies every positive trait Penn Staters pride themselves in; Success with Honor, the whole 100 yards.
Penn State is playing today with No. 42 on their helmets, to honor Mauti whose collegiate career, barring a surprising petition for a sixth year of eligibility, is over. The “42” is large and blue and takes up pretty much the entire left side of the helmet. In a sweet gesture, senior linebacker Gerald Hodges changed his jersey to No. 42 today to honor his good friend. The helmet decals are a way for the senior to be on the field with his teammates without actually playing.
A nice tribute. According to a Penn State spokesperson, it was suggested by the team. But doesn’t it seem a bit much? He didn’t die. His football career is not over. He can still rehab and has prospects for a long and successful career in the NFL. He is just missing one game.
Glorifying just one player -- essentially putting him on a pedestal -- seems misguided. Mauti wasn’t the only player who stepped up this summer. He wasn’t the only senior who called and texted underclassmen. He wasn’t the only player to keep an even keel, persevere through unprecedented adversity and leave everything out on the field. The tribute seems like something Mauti, one of the most modest athletes you'll ever come across, would not sign off on. He'd be the first person to stress that football is a team sport and Penn State's success was a team effort.
Before the game, Penn State unveiled blue letters that read “2012” above the section on the East end of Beaver Stadium, the equivalent of the rafters at a basketball arena. It sits next to the year 2008, 2005, 1994 and 1986. In total, there are 15 other years there. They represent all of Penn State’s undefeated or championship seasons. With that, the university is saying this season is just as important, just as special.
There are more than 100 players on this year’s team that contributed to that, including 30 seniors who were honored before the game. Each played a role, not just Mauti. Penn State’s motto this season is “One Team” not “One Player.” What does everyone else think of the Mauti tribute? Comment below.