STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — A season's worth of anger, confusion and frustration seemingly evaporated in one collective roar for 93,000 Penn State fans after a potential game-tying field goal sailed left of the upright in overtime.
In a 2012 full of familiar disappointment for Pennsylvania sports fans — from the collapse of the Eagles to the Pirates' second-half swoon — a thrilling end in Happy Valley gave the Nittany Lions faithful hope for a future that once looked murky for reasons other than football.
The turmoil and revival for Penn State football headlined a roller-coaster year in Pennsylvania sports.
The Nittany Lions aren't finished after all, not by a longshot.
"How can you not come here?" Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin said recently when asked what message he would send to potential recruits. "That last game says it all — it's better than any bowl game that I've ever played in."
Penn State's well-known predicament started in July, when the NCAA levied landmark sanctions including a four-year postseason ban and significant scholarship cuts for the school's handling of the child molestation scandal involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
But the school withstood the departure of about a dozen players after the NCAA sanctions in July behind the leadership of first-year coach Bill O'Brien and a senior class including McGloin that refused to give in. The 24-21 overtime win over Wisconsin on a cold, late November night was a microcosm of a season of adversity.
The year began with the death in January of former coach Joe Paterno, who had recruited most of the current team and still inspired loyalty among top players despite being fired by school trustees in the aftermath of the scandal.
It ended with O'Brien getting lauded for his coaching job and rallying alumni, the community and students around the Nittany Lions, who finished an unlikely 8-4.
"I think a lot of other guys outside of that network are probably surprised and look at that as a grand accomplishment," said Dolphins defensive end and former Nittany Lion Cameron Wake. "But I think that anybody who has that blue and white in their blood wouldn't expect anything less."
In Philadelphia, Eagles coach Andy Reid buried his 29-year-old son, Garrett, who was found dead in his dorm room at Lehigh University in Bethlehem on Aug. 5 during the team's training camp. A coroner ruled in October that Garrett Reid died of an accidental heroin overdose. He also said steroids were found in his room, but that they were not related to his death.
On the field, the franchise's slide down the NFC East standings continued. An in-season shakeup to the coaching staff couldn't prevent Philly from missing the playoffs for a second straight season.
A concussion sidelined quarterback Michael Vick, and the futures of both Vick and Reid in Philadelphia remained questionable at best amid a string of losses.
In contrast, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and coach Mike Tomlin are both firmly entrenched in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers remain a threat in the AFC North in spite its aging defensive core.
The Broncos stunned Pittsburgh on wild-card weekend last January after then-Denver quarterback Tim Tebow threw an 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of overtime for a 29-23 win. By December, the Steelers were in a dogfight to stay in playoff contention in 2012 despite a banged-up roster.
Staying in a playoff chase has been a foreign concept for the Pirates. But with center fielder Andrew McCutcheon leading the way in a breakout campaign, Pittsburgh stormed to a first-place finish at the All-Star break to stir the postseason hopes of long-suffering Pirates fans.
But The Streak lives on.
The Pirates unraveled slowly and steadily over the final seven weeks to turn a 16-game cushion over the .500 mark in early August into a 79-83 finish and a record 20th straight losing season.
The Phillies had been unaccustomed to losing, not with a roster chock full of star players and a pitching staff led by Roy Halladay.
Injuries to Doc and sluggers Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, though, turned out to be too much for Philadelphia to overcome. The Phillies' run of five consecutive NL East titles ended, as did a streak of nine straight winning seasons after an 81-81 finish. Manager Charlie Manuel's club did manage to play better in August and September and hovered just above .500 at times over the final few weeks of the season.
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