So it's that time of year again, when the texting taunts arrive on my phone:
"Hear that crackling sound? That's Nittany Lion bones breaking."
That came Monday morning.
This came Wednesday:
"It's on baby," accompanied by a picture of a very menacing looking Urban Meyer, coach of the mighty Ohio State Buckeyes.
These nuggets of niceness all come from the same maniac…I mean, passionate Buckeye fan, Patricia Walker.
She was my very first editor at a tiny paper in Hatboro called Today's Spirit. That was 35 – yikes! – years ago.
Since then, we went on to work at different newspapers, but our Penn State/Ohio State rivalry lived on with great ferocity. One year, late at night, I talked a colleague of Pat's at the Bucks County Courier Times to let me into her office – she was the top editor, now retired. I spent about an hour giving what was a shrine to the Buckeyes a blue-and-white makeover, complete with streamers, balloons, and a full-size cardboard likeness of Joe Paterno. And I did something unkind to her plush Brutus mascot.
Another year I sent something tasteful: pizzas with P-S-U spelled out in pepperoni.
She gave as good as she got. One year I arrived in the Inquirer newsroom to find my cubicle filled with scarlet-and-gray balloons. Another year, I pulled into my driveway, pushed the button on the garage door remote control to find an inflating Brutus in my parking spot.
We have attended many Penn State/Ohio State games together, though wearing opposing fan gear. We have spent many Saturdays in front of the television to take in this annual test of friendship and school loyalty.
Last year I braced for a miserable evening – having to endure the game in hostile territory aka Pat's family room in Maryland. It is awash in scarlet-and-gray and every form of Buckeye memorabilia. I figured the highlight of the night for me would be the massive bushel of crabs she bought to fortify us for the game ahead.
I took my seat in the back of the room – intentionally far from her – to watch a game that turned out way better than I had expected. The Nittany Lions won! 24-21. Did I mention Pat is a sore loser?
As the countdown clock to this year's rematch clicks down to less than three hours from kickoff, I'm happy to say I'm far from that family room, working as day editor in the newsroom of the Inquirer/Daily News/Philly.com.
But the tweets keep coming.
"Not a chance … lions," she wrote. I've left out the obscenity.
As we head into a game with a huge revenge factor, my very own paper sits on my desk reminding me what lies ahead might not be easy:
No matter how this turns out, I take comfort in knowing one thing:
We'll do this all again next year.
And I love you, friend. Even if you are a Buckeye.
Epilogue: Penn State: 38; Ohio State: 39. Ouch!!!
And there you have it…why this rivalry is so fun and agonizing at the same time. A remarkable performance by the Buckeyes.