Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith developed a trademark of sorts as an original member of the Monday Night Football broadcast crew. When the game’s outcome was determined, he would sing this line from a Willie Nelson song:
“Turn out the lights, the party’s over…”
I’m not nearly old enough to say I watched any of those broadcasts. I don’t like the Cowboys and don’t know much about Willie Nelson albums, but this particular tune has consistently come to mind these last few weeks.
Back in May, fresh off my first vacation in more than a year with Land of 10, news came down from the highest levels of Cox Media Group. It wasn’t good. The company decided to shut down operations for its grand college athletics endeavor — the DieHards network — effective June 30.
This meant no more Land of 10, which followed SEC Country’s lead as a conference-specific site staffed with tremendously talented reporters and editors. Considering these sites’ steady ascent in the industry — and, selfishly, our success in the Penn State market — it was a gut punch.
But then there was an immediate outpouring of support from Nittany Lions fans, coaches, players, prospects and the parents who’ve allowed me to tell their sons’ stories. I saw the same thing happen across social media for our reporters on every beat. Alabama. Florida. LSU. Michigan. Nebraska. Ohio State. That’s continued through June.
In many ways, the appreciation from Penn State fans has helped carry me through this final stretch because they’ve been too good to let down. Hopefully, by emptying the notebook this month and prioritizing stories that have special meaning to Nittany Lions Nation, I’ve managed to reciprocate that appreciation.
I didn’t really know what to expect in Happy Valley. My initial trip to campus — for the 2017 Blue-White Game — coincided with my first week on Land of 10’s staff.
After spending nearly four years as a national reporter at Bleacher Report, I couldn’t have asked for a better transition to covering a singular team full-time. When Cox Media presented me with an opportunity to join its expanding college football coverage last spring, three programs were presented as possibilities — two in the Big Ten and one in the SEC.
From my perspective, the decision to push for Penn State was a no-brainer. Fans were a big part of that thought process. They are passionate, invested and truly crave Nittany Lions news on a daily basis, which is ideal from a reporter’s perspective.
Above all, the program’s trajectory was apparent. Penn State was fresh off a Big Ten championship, brought back college football’s most exciting player and featured a rising star in the coaching ranks with James Franklin.
My wife, Hillary, is a self-proclaimed “City Girl.” She’s spent more time in Manhattan than anyone I know, trekking in and out of the city five days per week for much of our relationship. I’ll never forget her face as we drove to Happy Valley together for the first time, about a year ago, in search of a place to live.
“I see cows, but where are the people?” she asked while we were still about 10 miles away from State College.
Beaver Stadium then steadily began to emerge on the horizon. In that moment, Hillary understood why we were heading into town. It also didn’t take long to soften her stance on those cows, as the Creamery was among our first stops.
I understand football. It’s been a factor in my life since childhood, and it’s helped pay the bills since I was an 18-year-old recruiting assistant at Rutgers University. The culture of a collegiate community, on the other hand, can often evade understanding for an “outsider.”
Before this job, I hadn’t spent much time in Pennsylvania west of Philadelphia. My wife and I are both graduates of a Big Ten university, but it’s not this one.
Simply put, football aside, we took a leap of faith that this would be a positive step in our journey. Due in large part to the people we’ve encountered, that decision has been validated.
I can’t say enough about the coaches, communications staff and press box colleagues who’ve helped me do what I love — tell stories about football and the people who make this game so great.
For the sake of sentimentalism, I’ve shared a few of those stories below here. Regardless of what happens next in my professional career, I’ll carry these with me as a point of pride and a virtual scrapbook of life on the Penn State beat.
I could share many, many more links, but the lights are growing dim here at Land of 10 and it’s time to shuffle toward the exit door.
This week, I received a PDF package of my written Penn State content with Land of 10. It’s 3,066 pages. It’s been a blast, and that’s because of you.
Consistent interaction with Nittany Lions fans — whether for weekly mailbag purposes or during Facebook Live sessions, on social media or outside Beaver Stadium — challenged me to explore new topics. On many occasions, I’ve proposed questions to Penn State coaches, players and prospects based on subjects you wanted to learn more about.
My brand affiliation changes after June 30 but that doesn’t mean we can’t still chat. You can find me on Twitter, and I’ll be keeping close tabs on the Nittany Lions regardless of what’s next.
So, what is next?
Though I’ve yet to solidify plans, I’m excited about where several conversations are headed. At the very least, I can assure you college football isn’t rid of me just yet. Perhaps neither are Penn State fans.
As I write these final few words with Land of 10, the impressive landscape of Happy Valley sprawls beyond my computer screen, vividly green on a gorgeous summer morning. There’s a lot to figure out in these upcoming days, but for now, I’ll close the laptop and go explore an area that’s gradually grown far more friendly than foreign during my year here.
Thanks for the memories. It’s time to find another party.