There is a certain group of fans that can see or think no wrong when it comes to their favorite sports teams. They rationalize losses and mistakes and, despite all evidence to the contrary, firmly believe that everything is going to be OK, that a big score or a big win or a championship is just a few plays away.
Will Bill O'Brien listen if pro teams come calling this offseason?
We say these people view the world through "rose-colored glasses."
What the NCAA sanctions have done, among other things, is to fit a good population of Penn State's fan base with glasses of a very different sort. The lenses on these glasses add dark clouds to sunny days. They allow people to see the future, but only if that future is a worst-case scenario.
When Deion Barnes sacks the quarterback, for example, Penn State fans, instead of being encouraged about the prospect of three more years of a sensational pass rusher in the lineup, get a twinge of fear that the redshirt freshman won't be able to turn down the opposing coaches who will whisper sweet nothings in his ear this offseason. Instead of watching a BCS bowl game and saying to themselves, "Penn State could easily score on this team" and be heartened about the prospects for the 2013 season, Nittany Lion fans must hope that Allen Robinson or Adrian Amos aren't watching that same game and deciding they want to play in a bowl -- with another team.
And, instead of being thrilled at the job that Bill O'Brien has done in a rookie season the likes of which no college coach has ever encountered, those cloud-colored glasses have made some wonder if that job has made him a viable candidate for what seem to be inevitable job openings at the NFL level and, worse, if he would consider one or more of those jobs.
These glasses have special powers. They can make people hear things differently, too. They can listen to innocuous comments by Barnes and O'Brien about the future and hear only the empty spaces in between. And they wonder why those spaces aren't being filled with phrases like "I would never leave Penn State! I would sooner cut off my right foot than play or coach anywhere else!"
Let's say, for argument's sake, that Penn State wins its final two games of the season and finishes at 8-4. In the past, an 8-4 season in which the Nittany Lions were more than competitive in their losses would have been more than enough for fans wearing rose-colored glasses to get downright giddy about the following autumn. Through the sanction lenses, though, they'll spend much of the offseason fretting about more player defections, not only the stars but the role players who would provide the depth this team will sorely need in the coming years.
And every time an NFL head coach is fired this winter, they'll bite their lip and wonder if that team's general manager is putting in a call to O'Brien, at least until the coach makes a definitive public statement about his future at Penn State.
But is there anything O'Brien can say that will really calm everyone? When the sanctions were delivered this July, he issued the following statement: "I knew when I accepted the position that there would be tough times ahead. But I am committed for the long term to Penn State and our student athletes."
Did he have a chance to give a similar response this week when the NFL topic was broached at his news conference? Yes, and he did not take it. But who says he had to? When he says his focus is on Indiana and winning the next game on the schedule, shouldn't that be enough for fans who want to see him do just that?
Do I think O'Brien is going anywhere at the moment? No. I think the job he has now is a far, far different job than the one he signed on for last January, but I also think he realizes the benefits of the situation he's been placed in, such as they are: Slightly lessened expectations from his bosses and (reasonable) media until the sanctions have run their course; a fan base more than willing to profess their loyalty to him for helping the program through one of the darkest periods in its history; more job security for the foreseeable future here than he would get at any other place, professional or college.
O'Brien's buyout would be a sizable hurdle for any team trying to lure him from State College, just as the bonds formed by the Supa Six would be a hurdle for any team trying to coax Penn State's group of talented sophomores away from campus. Neither hurdle would be impossible to clear, though, which is the somber reality for the program and its followers as 2012 winds to a close.
We all view reality differently, though. And for Penn State fans, reaching for -- or borrowing -- a pair of those old rose-colored glasses and leaving the sanction glasses in a drawer this offseason might not be a bad idea.