Fury Returns to Penn State

Article excerpt

Byline: Frank Fitzpatrick

On the eve of Sandusky's trial, Paterno fans get mad.

State College, Pa. - Four months after his death, Joe Paterno remains a martyred saint here. And the College Heights neighborhood where Penn State's legendary football coach lived most of his 85 years is the heart of St. Joe's holy land.

So what was Judas doing walking its streets?

Two large, leashed dogs propelled the 6-foot-4 Mike McQueary along Park Road, the tree-lined border between College Heights and the 15,000-acre campus of the Pennsylvania State University. The weather was crisp and bright on May 9--less than a month before ex-Paterno aide Jerry Sandusky was due to be tried on 52 counts of child molestation--and McQueary's fiery red hair flashed like a warning beacon as he passed from shadow to sunlight.

Once-sunny Happy Valley has been overwhelmed by shadows since Nov. 5, 2011, when Sandusky and two Penn State administrators accused of a cover-up in the case were arrested. McQueary, who reported witnessing what may be the scandal's most sordid episode, soon found himself at the heart of the darkness, having lost his job as a Penn State football assistant--and his good name.

For helping expose the alleged crimes and, by extension, the secretive Penn State culture that may have facilitated them, he became a hero to many Americans. But here in Mount Nittany's shadow, where the resulting tumult has factionalized a small town and a large university, he's an outcast, a villain, a traitor.

That's why his morning foray into the heart of Paterno country was either foolhardy or defiant. Less than 20 yards from where one of McQueary's dogs now relieved itself was a new Catholic student center that bore the name of Paterno's widow. The Paterno Library and Beaver Stadium, the 110,000-seat football facility, were short walks away. And the late coach's quirky four-bedrooom ranch, clashing with the surrounding Tudors and Dutch colonials, stood nearby, on shady McKee Street.

State College doesn't understand McQueary. He grew up here, played quarterback at State College High and at Penn State, became one of Paterno's trusted assistants. But one night a decade ago he says he saw Sandusky and a 10-year-old boy in a football-building shower. And instead of unburdening himself to police, McQueary went to his father, who advised him to inform Paterno. A day later, sitting at a kitchen table in the old coach's house, he did so, ultimately triggering an earthquake of events that included not only Sandusky's arrest but Paterno's once-unthinkable dismissal.

Residents here continue to believe the black clouds now stationed over their town might have blown away if only McQueary had contacted police that night. Had he done so, they insist, Sandusky, the 68-year-old ex-coach accused of molesting at least 17 young boys, might have been stopped long before he was. Paterno might still be alive and coaching. And the university's "We Are ... Penn State" pride as well as the integrity that was its signature virtue might still be intact.

"There had always been a kind of cocky quality to Penn State students and to the whole atmosphere there," said Marci Hamilton, a Penn State graduate and child-advocate attorney who filed the first civil lawsuit in the case on behalf of a youngster known only as John Doe A. "That's gone. This is still a good place, a morally good place, but there's a lot of self-questioning going on."

Now, as the dog walker neared McKee Street, where Paterno's widow still lived in the house bordering Sunset Park, a silver Honda slowed alongside. A window in the vehicle lowered and a muscular arm emerged. The young driver raised his left hand and pumped its middle finger furiously in McQueary's direction.

As the agitated dogs barked at the departing car, their master walked on impassively.

The Indians who used to live in the valley now dominated by Penn State called the mountain that filled its southern horizon Nita-Nee, meaning a "barrier against the elements. …