Sandusky found guilty
On Nov. 13, 1999, appreciative fans adorned Penn State's Beaver Stadium with hand-painted signs the size of bed sheets -- all in praise of Jerry Sandusky.
It was Sandusky's last home game after 32 years as a defensive assistant to head football coach Joe Paterno, and the university was honouring him.
Yes, that Jerry Sandusky. The one found guilty Friday night on 45 of 48 counts of child sex abuse with up to 10 boys over a 15-year period. His jail sentence, to be determined, could exceed 400 years.
In 1999, few in central Pennsylvania knew Sandusky had such a dark side.
He had long since won over the hearts of locals in and around State College, not only for churning out great Nittany Lion defences and great defensive players alike -- especially linebackers -- but also for his tireless volunteer work on behalf of local youth with the charity he founded in 1977, The Second Mile.
Sandusky was retiring, it was announced at the time, so he could devote more time to The Second Mile.
To many Penn State alumni and fans, Sandusky was Saint 1B -- to Saint 1A, their beloved "JoePa." After all, what seasoned, head-coach-ready football man had ever given it all up to run a local children's charity?
So it was a special occasion on that sunny day in 1999 as "Coach" worked the sidelines at Happy Valley for one last time as defensive coordinator.
"From all of us at Linebacker U -- thanks Jerry for the Memories," read one sign.
"We'll miss you Coach Sandusky," read another.
The sign that perhaps best captured the sentiment of the occasion appeared to be professionally made -- likely by the university itself. Between a pair of official athletic department logos were these words: "Thanks Jerry -- You are Penn State."
That's a high-tribute play on the cherished battle cry of all Nittany Lions fans. With brazen pride at games, both home and away, fans repeatedly shout out the following call-and-answer between themselves:
"WE ARRRRE!!! ... "
"... PENN STATE!!"
Before that game in 1999 -- the No. 6 Nittany Lions' nationally broadcast showdown against the No. 16 Michigan Wolverines -- a teary-eyed Sandusky was introduced to a huge ovation.
He hugged some of his defensive players. Then he blew a big kiss to the 96,840 in attendance. Finally, he bear-hugged player No. 45, his fifth adopted son, Jon, a reserve safety, now the director of player personnel for the Cleveland Browns.
ABC taped that touching scene and aired it at the top of the show. Announcers Brent Musberger and Gary Danielson referenced Sandusky throughout the game, and the producer kept a camera constantly trained on the coach. At times ABC showed us some of those tribute signs hanging around the stadium.
A huge Michigan fan, I videotaped the game -- as always.
This past January, before sitting down to write a pre-Super Bowl feature on ex-Wolverine QB Tom Brady's coming-of-age moment in college, I rewatched it. I'd forgotten it coincided with the Sandusky lovefest.
Perhaps as much as anything I've seen, heard or read in the months since the Sandusky scandal exploded in November, the events as recorded on my deteriorating VHS tape inform. They underscore the deep affection and loyalty felt throughout central Pennsylvania not only for Penn State football -- but for all the principals associated with it. They're all icons. All to be revered, all to be defended.
But not unconditionally.
On Friday night, Sandusky's trial in nearby Bellefonte, Pa., ended when a 12-person jury found him guilty of all those child sex abuse charges, after overwhelmingly upsetting testimony from eight of his 10 victims, who had achingly testified in graphic detail how the now 68-year-old Sandusky eventually forced them to secretly submit to sex acts -- oral, anal or otherwise.
The jury comprised nine people with close ties to Penn State -- one student, four employees, two professors and two alumni.
Sandusky left the courthouse in handcuffs, escorted into a cruiser that would take him to the first of the only homes he'll now ever know -- one behind bars.
He looked stunned, much as he did as he left the Penn State sideline after the loss to Michigan in 1999, when his defence collapsed in the final four minutes and allowed Brady and the Wolverines to score two decisive touchdowns in a 31-27 Michigan win.
It is almost eerie to watch a clearly gutted Sandusky on that jumpy game tape, strolling sadly away, by himself. Totally alone. No one patting him on the back saying, "Chin up, you still had a brilliant career, Coach," or something like that.
Instead, it was as if they all were avoiding him. Like they would a child molester.
That brief image was deceiving, however. In reality, everybody at Penn State still had his back.
But not anymore. And thank goodness for that. As the jury of his Penn State peers unanimously decided, deplorable actions speak far louder than battle-cry words.
Jerry Sandusky, you arrrre ...
... Not Penn State.