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On Michael Penix Jr

Former Hoosier. Husky. Hopeful.

Indiana v Rutgers Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images

Indiana needed a touchdown to tie it.

All of 75 yards separated Michael Penix Jr. from the endzone, but it didn’t matter. It could’ve been 100. Nothing was stopping him that night.

First it was 12 to Whop Philyor, 13 and 11 to Javon Swinton. 13 more to Jacolby Hewitt through an impossible window. In no time those 75 yards became less than one, which he crossed himself for the touchdown before using his legs again on the 2-point conversion.

The Hoosiers ended up needing two touchdowns, both with 2-point attempts, to fell No. 8 Penn State in Bloomington that night. Ball and outstretched arm met pylon, and the rest is history.

The kind of thing most fanbases dream of happening, just a bit too unreal for reality. But most fanbases don’t have Michael Penix Jr.

For four years, Indiana did.

Watching sport is about so much more than the achievement. Titles, trophies, playoffs or what have you. At its best, sport brings people together as something we all share.

Friends gather at bars or homes to watch the game. Loved ones are surprised with tickets to see their favorite teams and athletes. Perfect strangers can strike up a conversation because one is wearing a jersey.

If it’s a Hoosier football jersey, you can bet that person has memory of The Reach against Penn State that brought us together when distance defined the times.

Countless gridiron talents came come through Bloomington as the decades have gone on, it’s not the college football wasteland some may think it to be. But Penix was different, the highs as high as we’ve ever seen them in the cream and crimson. Higher than almost the entirety of the fanbase has experienced with their own eyes.

That zip he put on the ball. His ability to navigate the pocket. The way he could thread the needle through the smallest windows. His unbreakable, unrelenting desire to win.

These are some of the things he left us with. Beating Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State mean something around here. What’s another game on the schedule for some is a milestone win at The Rock.

One way or another, fans wore his jersey. Kids around the state drew pictures of his left-handed release. We can recall that final drive against Penn State, the total dismantling of Michigan and the heroics against Ohio State.

I got to college at the exact same time Penix did and got season football tickets so I could watch him play. One of the memories that sticks out most is 2019 against Northwestern, a team coming off a division title the previous year. He’d been injured, his status unknown heading into the game and you could feel the anticipation in the cold air as fans filled out the stadium.

Memorial Stadium announced the starting lineup back then. A half-second of relief and gasps was followed by an encompassing roar when Penix showed up on the jumbotron as that night’s starting quarterback.

It’s hard to summarize how the fanbase feels about his transfer without going overboard on the word count. After all the injuries and the way the 2021 season ended, you could only say he deserved success.

The best way? Now everyone else knows how great he is at this. Indiana knew, Washington knew and now he’s arguably the center of the sport.

He means the world to Washington, just as he meant something here. They’ll get to tell friends and children about that one pass to Rome Odunze that one time, as we have and will about the one to Ty Fryfogle.

He’s a Husky. It’s how history will remember him. After everything he went through he deserves that embrace and recognition. Indiana would prefer it happened here, but we can recognize and be glad that it happened at all. But he’s not done.

One more to go.

Fans around Bloomington, Indianapolis, Chicago and the rest of the country will gather around televisions to watch Michael Penix Jr. play college football one last time next Monday.

They’ll do so as Hoosiers. But as they have for two years, their hearts will beat for that Husky.