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Gazzolo: Post-Sandusky Penn State beginning rebuild

Last Modified: Monday, September 03, 2012 11:43 PM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

It was the first big day of a brand new season, one when fresh hope and new promises.

This is when we find out just how good those young freshmen, the ones we gave so much attention to last winter, really are.

And we also find out which returning players took the offseason seriously, and which ones did not.

But instead of looking at all the new things in college football, I was drawn to the story that just won’t go away.

So, instead of looking in on the fresh season, I had to at least take a peak at the sad, old saga that remains Penn State.

Maybe it is the same curiosity that has us slow down when we pass car crashes, hoping in part not to see but in a way expecting the worst as well.

That is what remains of this once legendary program, nothing but wreckage.One of college football’s elite programs is no more. What is left is nothing but shame, anger and pity.Rocked by an unthinkable scandal and harsh sanctions by the NCAA, the Nittany Lions really began life without Joe Paterno and without much hope and promise either.

This was not about picking up the pieces, but instead forming new building blocks.

I’m not sure what I expected to see when my clicker stopped on the game between Penn State and Ohio University. Usually, I would have passed by such a match up without hesitation.

But, on this Saturday I kept being drawn back to see more carnage.

More than a few people believe that this is a program that was let off easy, that football should not be played on that campus for a long time to come.

Others think the penalties were too harsh, punishing those who had nothing to do with the crimes committed in Happy Valley.

Those debates didn’t matter. I wanted to see what has and will become of the program.

It was not easy to watch. The talent has been down for years, and the players from Ohio took no mercy on those who remained at PSU.

Penn State lost, at home, to the Ohio Bobcats 24-14, blowing an 11-point lead in the second half. That fact alone tells you where the program stands on the field.

Off the field is a different story.

There was still plenty of support for the team in the community, which doesn’t seem ready to turn its back on the players who elected to stay and fight for their school.

Given a get out of town free card, 91 of the 100 Nittany Lions elected to stay. Maybe some had no choice, but more than a few did.

A few of them stayed for selfish reasons, of course, but more than a few also stayed because they believed in Penn State.

At first, watching them was tough. Thoughts of the young victims and what they went through at the hands of Jerry Sandusky were always on my mind. You also wondered how many of those sexaully abused boys could have been saved if the powers to be took the right course of action.

Sad indeed.

But, then my attention turned to what is good about this Penn State team, to the young men who stayed and fight to help rebuild this program. In a way, they too are victims of Sandusky’s evil.

And the fans, they elected to fill the stadium and vow to be with the team for as long as it takes to make the nation proud of their school once more.

That’s when I found myself actually rooting in the closing moments for Penn State. That program, those players and that fan base has become the symbol of a fresh start.

It won’t happen over night for all, and some may never again see the school in the light they once did. All the ugliness cannot be washed away in one bright, beautiful day on a football field.

Too much pain and too much hurt has been suffered by far too many.

Still, there is now hope.

And yes, it is OK if you want to root for Penn State’s players.

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Jim Gazzolo is American Press managing sports editor. Email him at

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