Posts filed under ‘Penn State football’
…the Alumni Zone, that is.
I spent Saturday afternoon in the Ashenfelter Multi-Sport Facility, just below Beaver Stadium, helping staff the “Alumni Zone,” a post-Homecoming-game tailgate hosted by the Alumni Association. This was the third year for the Alumni Zone, but the first time I’d ever been able to be there, and it was pretty impressive.
Patrons pay a flat fee for about three hours of music, games, beer and wine, unlimited food, and a chance to meet some Penn State celebrities. This year’s celebrities include several coaches, such as Cael Sanderson (wrestling), Mark Pavlik (volleyball), and Beth Alford-Sullivan (track/cross country); plus several Olympians (rower Natalie Dell ’07 and runner Dominique Blake ’08, among others); and pop singer Bex, who got her start as a Penn State musical theatre student.
The music came from the Phyrst Phamly Reunion Band, pictured above, and from the Alumni Blue Band.
We had a sellout crowd of well over 700, and a great range of ages as well—alumni from the 1950s, if not farther back, on up to 2012, and lots of little kids running around in the games area. Just a great family event.
I thought I’d share a couple of photos I took during the afternoon. First, here’s Natalie Dell telling the crowd that “the only thing better than being an Olympian is being a member of the United States team—and the only thing better than being a member of the United States team is being a Penn Stater.”
Here’s Alumni Blue Band member Larry Parko ’78, ’84g, who’s pretty easy to spot in a crowd:
Here’s Dominique Blake, a Penn State grad and a bronze medal winner for Jamaica at the London games, hanging out with the Alumni Association’s membership team:
And here’s a very young Penn State fan sleeping through the whole thing.
You can see more photos from the event on the Alumni Association’s Facebook page. Kudos to Michele Moore ’85 and the rest of the Alumni Association’s events team for pulling off an event that made a lot of Penn State fans very happy.
Tina Hay, editor
The biggest takeaway from a panel discussion Wednesday night titled “The Future of the NCAA and its Membership,” I thought, came at the end. And it didn’t come from either of the biggest names on the panel: Gene Corrigan or Cedric Dempsey, both former NCAA presidents.
It was R. Scott Kretchmar, Penn State’s former NCAA faculty representative and current professor of kinesiology, who said, “I think one of the difficulties that faculty and others who love Penn State are having at this time is, the issue of knowing that we need to move forward—we can’t keep tilling the soil; we have to get on with it—but the circumstances under which we’re now suffering were so unusual that it’s very difficult to do that.
“And so there may be a period of time where we have to ask questions: Were we treated fairly? Was there any kind of justice here? But eventually, we’re going to move on. Penn State’s strong. We’re going to have a good future.”
Those were the questions on everyone’s mind Wednesday night, and Kretchmar accurately described the mood of the crowd, a mix of students and townspeople.
Look at the title of the event, which was (more…)
“We should be eager, especially, to support a team that—if NCAA sanctions achieve their goal—may not be very good for the foreseeable future.”
That sentence is part of an essay that appears in our Sept./Oct. issue (you can find a PDF version of it here). Like nearly everything in the issue, it was inspired by a tumultuous summer that left Penn Staters angry, sad, and unsettled. In writing it, I focused on our collective support for the football team, something most of us take for granted—why would we not?—but an idea that the much of the outside world views as questionable, if not unconscionable. Confronting those competing perceptions, I felt it was worth making the case for why we still care about football.
Well, our team is 0-2. I was in the stadium for every second of the opening loss to Ohio, and I watched every second of that heartbreaker last week in Charlottesville. On Saturday, I’ll be back in Beaver Stadium for the visit of Navy, and it’s hard for me to imagine a scenario in which I won’t stay from start to finish. For me, those first two losses will make the first win under Bill O’Brien that much more rewarding. I don’t want to miss seeing it in person.
And if we lose Saturday? I’ll say the same for Temple’s visit next week.
Ryan Jones, senior editor
The first game of the Bill O’Brien era, a 24-14 loss to Ohio, was, in many ways, an odd game.
Players’ names were on the jerseys for the first time ever. The plain white helmets had a small blue ribbon to honor victims of child sexual abuse. Lots of fans wore T-shirts proclaiming “We are STILL Penn State,” and I saw at least one man wearing a shirt that proclaimed, simply, 409. It was the first home opener without Joe Paterno as a coach since 1949, and he wasn’t specifically mentioned or honored during the game. (Unofficially, one of the suites had a cardboard Stand-Up Joe in the window; it appeared to be Franco Harris’ box.)
There was a moment of silence before the game, with special mention of victims of child sexual abuse and “those who have endured suffering and loss.” Students also formed a ring around the stadium before the game to bring awareness to child sexual abuse, and athletes from Penn State’s other sports teams joined the Blue Band, cheerleaders, and national champion Lionettes on the field as the team ran out.
The Nittany Lions played a solid first half, taking a 14-3 lead, but then failed to score in the second half. And the defense gave up 21 second-half points. That’s not the kind of season opener Penn State is used to, of course. Big Ten teams don’t usually lose—at home—to teams from the Mid-American Conference, although by all accounts, the Bobcats are a strong team this season.
So the post-game mood was terse. O’Brien answered several questions with one word—no—and actually, dare I say it, sounded much like Paterno at times, insisting that he needed to watch film before he could answer questions about specific plays or what went wrong, and being unable to provide any updates on injuries. Even quarterback Matt McGloin, normally talkative win or lose, lapsed into clichés.
Not tight end Kyle Carter, who had a solid first game, catching five passes for 74 yards as the “F” tight end in O’Brien’s pro-style, two-tight end offense. (That’s the position that’s more of a wide receiver; the “Y” tight end is more of a blocker.) He wasn’t happy, but he was chatty.
The mood in the locker room was angry, he said. “We felt bad,” he said. “We should have won the game. We were playing for a whole lot of people, and it felt like we let a lot of people down.”
Someone in the scrum of reporters asked whether that wasn’t an awful lot of pressure. Carter dismissed that.
“We want to play for something,” he said. “Since we can’t play for bowl games, we’re playing for a whole university—and even more than that. We welcome that, and I just wish we would have won the game.”
Lori Shontz, senior editor
- Joe Posnanski had an impossible task. As he wrote before the book was published this week, he confronted an unprecedented challenge: writing a biography of someone who was suddenly engulfed in a national scandal—one that upended his reputation—and then died a few months later. I can’t imagine a worse scenario for a journalist.
- Joe Paterno was a complex, complicated guy—far more so than most of what’s been written about him would suggest. That includes my own work in two stints as a beat writer covering the team, and that’s been true since well before the Sandusky scandal broke. Paterno was tough to get close to.
Posnanski doesn’t shy away from either point. I admire that. (I should also note here that I’ve known Posnanski for years; we’ve shared press boxes and meals and a few jokes together. He’s a good guy.)
But if this isn’t the book Posnanski signed up to write—with the Paterno family’s explicit cooperation—in 2011, it’s also not the definitive account of Paterno’s life. It’s too soon for that book.
There aren’t any blockbuster revelations, and the choicest new details, about Paterno sobbing the day after he was dismissed, about how his family had to force him to read the grand jury presentment, about the “I Hate Jerry Sandusky Memo,” made their way into the media quickly through excerpts.
And, honestly, most of what was in the book, I already knew.
But keep in mind that I covered my first Penn State football game, for The Daily Collegian, in 1988, and that I’ve followed Penn State football and Paterno not only because I love college football and I’m a Penn State alum, but because my job required it. I’ve read every book written about Joe Paterno, even Joe Paterno: The Coach from Byzantium by his brother, George.
Some Penn State fans, I’m sure, will feel the same. This book covers a lot of familiar territory—far more pages are devoted to Paterno’s rise and his glory years than to the Sandusky scandal and aftermath, or even to the down years of the 2000s, which have been less well chronicled and deserve (I could say, need) a more full accounting. Posnanski is a lyrical, poetic writer, and he tells those familiar tales beautifully. He adds a few choice details. I expected nothing less.
The chapter about Rip Engle was terrific; I know a lot less about Engle than I do Paterno, so I found that particularly interesting. (Awesome tidbit: Engle didn’t like to say that a player “cheated” a step or two to one side in anticipation of a play, even though that’s totally legal, so he had players “fudge” instead.) I appreciated the occasional one-liners from Paterno family members, as well, including this gem from Sue, noting that their son David’s engineering aptitude certainly didn’t come from his father: “Joe couldn’t fix a sandwich.”
Posnanski also does an excellent job showing the toll that the pursuit of excellence can take on family life; particularly when Paterno is designing his new defense in the late 1960s, Sue and the kids are on their own.
It does, however, take a long time to get to the new stuff, and those parts of the book aren’t as richly reported. There’s a chapter on Paterno’s relationship with Jerry Sandusky that clearly spells out the differences between the two men and the fact that they weren’t friends; I think this will come as less of a revelation to anyone who’s followed the program closely, but that chapter is a good read. Scott Paterno, son and lawyer, and Guido D’Elia, friend and marketing genius, wrestle with the presentment and its aftermath; anyone who cares about Joe Paterno will be sad as they read those scenes.
Posnanski eventually recounts a conversation between himself and Paterno in which the coach asks for the writer’s take. Posnanski doesn’t let him off the hook; he tells Paterno he should have done more because “you are Joe Paterno. Right or wrong, people expect more from you.” Elsewhere, he writes, “It is certain that no one, Paterno included, was aware enough, courageous enough, or decent enough to stop a man who would be found guilty of forty-five counts of child molestation.”
Most reviews, however, have found Posnanski’s portrayal, as Dwight Garner of the New York Times called it, “breezy and largely sympathetic.” Rich Hofmann of the Philadelphia Daily News calls it neither a “prosecutor’s brief” nor a “full-throated defense.” Beat writer Mark Wogenrich ’90 of The Morning Call in Allentown provides a great framework for understanding the book using an anecdote about Paterno’s recruitment of John Cappelletti. Guy Cipriano, the new beat writer for the Centre Daily Times, writes that Posnanski “whiffs” on this book because he didn’t make the most of his exclusive access to Paterno, and that’s a take well worth reading, too.
There aren’t many new insights here, but Posnanski does raise some fascinating ideas. At the end of a chapter in which he recounts both Joe’s courtship of Sue and then-Oakland Raiders coach Al Davis’ courtship of Joe (he wanted Paterno to be the offensive coordinator), Posnanski writes:
“She had fallen in love with State College the first day she arrived on campus as a student, and though Joe did not know it yet, the rest of his life would be guided by her vision. Joe was cocky, ambitious, principled, smart, consumed by football, and determined to win; those qualities and others would make him a great football coach. But he would become a legend by seeing the world through Sue’s eyes.”
Now that’s something I’d like to know more about. You can learn a lot about someone by understanding their relationships—particularly the choice of a life partner—and breaking down the Paterno marriage would have been insightful. But that thread is never picked up. And it’s not the only one.
In a few places, Posnanski zeroed in on the contradiction that I’ve never been able to understand: How was it that a man who spent his life preaching the value of education, preparing his football players to live a productive life away from the football field, wasn’t able to walk away himself and enjoy the other facets of his own life?
In recounting the program’s struggles in the early 2000s and Paterno’s refusal to consider retirement, Posnanski writes, “So why go on? Why keep coaching? There is no shortage of theories, but no one can know the depth of another man’s heart.”
I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to know a least a little more. Perhaps in another decade or so, enough time will have passed that more reporting can be done. For now, this book is as close as we’ll get.
Lori Shontz, senior editor
Lately it seems like the gods are making sure that there’s always a steady stream of news coming out about Penn State. And I think we already know what next week’s news will be: Paterno, the new biography by Joe Posnanski. It’s due to hit bookstores on Tuesday.
There’s a fair amount of anticipation around the book’s release (it’s already No. 28 on the Amazon.com top-sellers list, for example) and in large part that’s because of the circumstances: Posnanski set out to write a biography of Joe several years back, long before anyone knew what was to come, and suddenly last November Joe Paterno was out of a job and the nature of the book changed completely.
There was a time earlier this summer when a lot of people questioned whether the book even mattered anymore. The release of the Freeh report—which harshly criticizes Paterno for not doing more to stop Jerry Sandusky from abusing young boys—didn’t help. A July 22 New York Times story called the biography “perhaps one of the most unfortunately timed books of 2012″ and said it would “enter the marketplace at a moment when the name of Joe Paterno … has gone from revered to radioactive.” Posnanski’s book tour was cancelled, and now you can’t even find an official website for the book.
(The New York Times also wrote about the book this past April; that’s an article worth reading as well.)
On Wednesday of this week, Posnanski himself wrote in USA Today about the challenges the book presented. It sounds like the first sentence of his book sums up pretty well the extremes in people’s perceptions of Joe:
“This is the story of a man named Joe Paterno, who in his long life was called moral and immoral, decent and scheming, omniscient and a figurehead, hero and fraud, Saint Joe and the devil.”
Also on Wednesday, GQ magazine released some teensy tiny excerpts from the book—a grand total of 500 words’ worth. You can read those here. (And what the heck is Paterno, an avowed luddite, holding in that illustration? An iPhone?) Those are teasers from a longer excerpt that’s available in the September edition of GQ, which is on newsstands now. StateCollege.com’s Nate Mink ’11 bought a copy of the magazine and has posted a story about it, and Dustin Hockensmith ’04 of PennLive.com has a story as well.
Tina Hay, editor
There’s a fine line between careful and blunt—between cautious and direct—and Bill O’Brien has some practice walking it. On Thursday at Penn State’s preseason football media day, he was on the high wire again.
At issue are the competing emotions among so many Penn Staters about where to focus their energy, resources, and attention. In football terms, that means the question of whether to fight or accept harsh NCAA sanctions, whether to dispute or acknowledge the findings those sanctions were based on, and—symbolically, but just as important to some—how to feel about any changes at a football program where the word “tradition” is taken more seriously than almost anywhere else.
On Thursday, O’Brien tread carefully as he acknowledged all of the above; just don’t confuse “carefully” with “evasively.” Asked no fewer than four questions that touched on those themes, O’Brien was clear: He and the football program are moving forward. He hopes Penn Staters will join him.
“I’m very respectful of the traditions here—very respectful,” O’Brien said when asked about adding player names (more…)
“I feel like I’m at a bowl game.”
So said a woman making her way up Hastings Road on the way to Holuba Hall. It was a little before 6 a.m. Tuesday, and the woman was part of a steady stream of fans converging on the football practice facility, a crowd that eventually swelled into the thousands. It did feel a bit like the vibe before a postseason game—the sort that Penn State fans won’t be able to enjoy for another four years, at least.
This was “Rise and Rally,” an early-morning show of support for the Nittany Lion football team. Organized last week by Tim Sweeney ’89 and Keith Conlin ’95, former players who now host a local radio show, the rally brought together other former players (Sweeney is president of the football Letterman’s Club), students, and fans as a way to counteract the sense of a program under siege. With NCAA sanctions threatening the team’s ability to compete and every player on the roster free to transfer without limitation, there was a sense just a week ago that Penn State might see its program fall apart. Over the past week, coaches and players have largely reiterated their commitment; Tuesday was the first chance for fans to do so in person, and to let the players hear it. It’s clear they did.
The crowd, already a thousand deep by 6 a.m., milled about, sustained by free cookies, (more…)
It started quietly, with Bill O’Brien releasing a short statement Monday morning. He followed that Tuesday with a teleconference with local media in which he laid out his approach to dealing with the NCAA-imposed obstacles to on-field success: He will emphasize all that Penn State still has to offer—home games in front of 100,000-plus fans, facilities on par with any in the nation, a coaching staff that understands how to prepare prospects for a chance at the NFL. Already, he is pitching players and recruits—any of whom can leave for another program if they choose—on rising to the challenge. And, yes, he says he’s “committed for the long term.”
O’Brien’s media tour continued Wednesday with appearances on ESPN (this 15-minute interview is well worth watching), all leading up to his trip to Chicago for this week’s Big Ten media days. As he’s done almost without fail in his first seven months on the job, O’Brien continues to say all the right things. On Wednesday morning, he got some backing from his players, as a group of a few dozen, led by seniors and likely captains Michael Zordich and Michael Mauti, met the media to publicly state their unity and commitment to the program.
There’s no telling how many current and future Lions will be able to maintain such a fierce commitment over the next four years. But after another rough stretch of days in an ongoing saga, this is a promising sign.
Ryan Jones, senior editor
Like everyone, we’re gobsmacked. Associate editor Mary Murphy and I were just discussing the NCAA’s unprecedented sanctions against Penn State, and she said, “I feel like I’m in that movie Inception, you know? When everything starts crumbling?”
Honestly, it’s felt that way around here since Nov. 4. This morning was a particular low point, though.
It wasn’t just the sanctions, although as I’m sure you know by now, they were bad enough:
- A $60 million fine to create endowments for organizations that fight child sex abuse. (This can’t be paid by cutting non-revenue sports or academic programs, the NCAA said, and Penn State doesn’t have to cut a check tomorrow. The fine can be paid over five years.) The Big Ten’s additional penalty: (more…)