STATE COLLEGE -- As Beaver Stadium unraveled around them, delirious over Penn State’s first win over a top-five team in 17 years, James Franklin grabbed daughter Shola’s hand and entered the media room.
Shola Franklin was as excited to sit at the podium with her father after Penn State’s 24-21 victory over Ohio State as she was at being awake past 8 p.m. for the first time. Turns out, Shola was there for moral support as well.
On Tuesday, as his team began preparing to deliver the biggest win of Franklin’s career, the coach suffered a family tragedy. His brother-in-law died, leaving behind two young children, Jeremy and Kendra, whom Franklin mentioned twice in his post-game comments.
The players didn’t know what happened until Franklin told them at a team meeting Friday. His voice broke then, as it did late Saturday night at Beaver Stadium. Shola Franklin placed her hand on her father’s shoulder as he spoke.
“This is emotional on a lot of different levels,” Franklin said. “Emotional for this community, and for our players and for my family. So, my daughter’s up here tonight, whether you like it or not.”
Landmarks: Penn State reached plenty of landmarks with the win Saturday:
First win over a top-5 team since beating Arizona in 1999.
First win over a top-2 team since beating Notre Dame in 1990.
First win over a top-2 team at home since beating Nebraska in 1982.
First win over a top-5 team, while unranked, since beating Ohio State in 1964.
For Franklin, the victory came a few weeks after receiving a distinct, and deliberate, vote of support from Athletic Director Sandy Barbour following a 39-point loss to Michigan. The coach also mentioned Penn State President Eric Barron.
“They came they came out strong for me and this program,” Franklin said. “This doesn’t happen tonight without that as well."
.Maintaining his demeanor: At practice last week, Franklin didn’t break stride. He didn’t miss a practice, didn’t change his demeanor and didn’t stop smiling. And he didn't mention his family situation.
“He was James Franklin, he was himself,” running back Saquon Barkley said. “You could not tell what happened. I felt so badly for him, we were praying for him and his family. Being able to get this win for him, and the program, means a lot.”
Marcus Allen, who blocked the punt that led to Grant Haley’s game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter, said Franklin remained “businesslike” all week. Haley called Franklin a “great coach” because “we know we can count on him when times get hard.”
“For him to come back and be there for team meetings and for practice means a lot to us,” Allen said. “We just want to show him how much he means to us."
Inspiration from Robinson: At the same team meeting Friday, former Penn State quarterback Michael Robinson delivered what players called a mesmerizing speech about overcoming adversity. Robinson helped engineer Penn State's program-changing victory over Ohio State in 2005.
Robinson's speech drifted across the Penn State sideline when the team was down 21-7. Barkley said he was never more relaxed than at that point. Allen worked the sideline, saying, "Let's you, we're good. You nervous? I ain't nervous."
"For him to talk about adversity in the team meeting, and then we really went through adversity on the field, it was like it was meant to be."