The cameras flashed, and Penn State fans felt instant joy.
Five cruel years of turmoil were put to rest. Dec. 22, 2004, 200 miles south of Happy Valley, everything changed.
One month earlier, Graham Spanier and Tim Curley walked into the Paterno household thinking, maybe, after four decades, the time had come for a new coaching direction.
Unnecessary, Joe Paterno thought. He needed just a player or two. He'd show the world he still had it.
Derrick Williams showed the world he believed it.
With a commitment from the nation's top recruit, Penn State football reached its tipping point of the new millennium.
Pardon Penn State fans for thinking the first decade felt like an entire millennium in itself. It was the decade from hell and the decade of triumph, the decade of record-setting performances, both good and bad, all rolled into one.
The Lions posted three double-digit win seasons and won two Big Ten titles and four bowl games in the last five years. But how did they get here?
A prologue occurred in the final weeks of 1999, with Dan Nystrom, Billy Cockerham and Ron Johnson writing the script for Minnesota on a catch and a kick.
Little did everyone know what was on the horizon. A Kickoff Classic loss to USC started the decade and was followed by the most miserable of all losses: Toledo 24, Penn State 6.
Larry Johnson provided a brief intermission by rushing for 2,000 yards in '02, but four numbers will forever stick out in the Penn State record books: 5-7, 5-6, 3-9, 4-7. And never forget -- Iowa 6, Penn State 4.
Lost in it all, Joe Paterno became the winningest coach in college football history with No. 324. Minor detail, of course.
The signs were there at the end of '04. The defense held strong on its goal-line stand against Indiana, and the Nittany Lions pummeled Michigan State in the final game to send Zack Mills out on a winning note.
Then it came. The player the program needed. The teenager from Greenbelt, Md.
He'd be the one to show the nation Penn State still mattered. He'd be the one other top recruits follow. He'd bring speed and excitement to a Penn State offense that scored a horrendous 17.7 points per game.
With a few words at a nationally televised announcement, Williams brought Penn State into the 21st century.
Yes, he played only half the 2005 season before a broken arm sidelined him in the dreaded 60 minutes, 2 seconds, game in Ann Arbor. Yes, he left Penn State as an accomplished player but not the All-American superstar everyone had hoped for.
But he did his part. What happened after he voiced his college choice? Penn State football became a phenomenon. The "Greatest Show in College Football" was born. "Zombie Nation" and White Outs had been done before, but Penn State popularized them nationally, and programs around the country followed suit.
Even enrollment rose at University Park.
Obviously, Derrick Williams is not solely responsible for all this. But the early Christmas present he delivered to Penn State in 2004 served as a crucial turning point. And he is far from the best player to suit up in the plain Penn State blue and white. However, in recent history, he is the most important.
Thirty years from now, people will not remember the decade solely as the dark ages, full of losing records, fights and arrests.
No, we'll remember Williams and Isaac Smolko against Northwestern. We'll remember storming the field against Ohio State. We'll remember Terrelle Pryor's fumble, the first "Whitehouse" and three overtimes on a warm January night in Miami.
We'll remember 51 wins in five years, guaranteeing Joe Paterno his place atop college football's win list.
Spring practice 2010 has arrived. A new decade begins. Thanks in large part to Williams, the decade appears more promising than the start of the last. Whatever happens in the next 10 years, it's hard to imagine a similar roller coaster ride.
Everything has changed.
Yet one thing remains the same. The nameplate on the Lasch Building head coach's office still reads "Joe Paterno."
In the next 10 years, that will almost certainly change. And until the nameplate is different, perhaps we have no idea what real change in Penn State football actually is.