Nittany Lions: Stadium heroes to stadium sweepers

Joe Paterno sends his team back on the field -- to clean up


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UNIVERSITY PARK -- At 9:20 yesterday morning, the large steel gate located behind the south end zone at Beaver Stadium swung wide open.

Penn State coach Joe Paterno slowly guided his silver BMW inside.

His entire football team, about 110 players, had already been hard at work for nearly 90 minutes before Mr. Paterno made his surprise visit and huddled them together.

It was no regular workout.

The players had been forced to trade in their cleats, helmets and shoulder pads for brooms, shovels and yellow gloves.

Mr. Paterno, upset that several of his players were involved in an off-campus fight on April 1, decided in May to punish the entire team, ordering them to clean up the stadium after all seven home games this season.

Yesterday, Penn State's cleanup crew made its debut, less than 17 hours after they had pasted Florida International 59-0 in their non-conference season opener.

The players, some of them looking very groggy, arrived at the stadium in four blue university buses at 7:52 a.m.

Quarterback Anthony Morelli from Penn Hills High School was the first player off the bus. The senior tri-captain led the Nittany Lions into the stadium. Bob Hudzik, the supervisor of athletic fields, met the team there.

Accompanying the players on this cool morning were Tom Venturino, director of football operations; Kermit Buggs, coordinator of player personnel and development; and Larry Johnson, defensive line coach.

Although Saturday's game at Beaver Stadium packed in 107,678 fans, yesterday's much-publicized punishment drew only a handful of spectators.

Penn State officials barred the news media from the stadium.

Mr. Paterno, 80, was asked on Saturday if he planned to be part of the garbage detail.

"I don't want to make this a circus," he said at the time. "They are going to go out and they'll be here and they'll clean up a section and they'll do it. But for me to go out there and take a broom, you know, pictures will be all over and you won't even know the kids did it.

"It'll be Paterno, back to where he should be, sweeping."

Yesterday, Penn State players could be seen through the gate, scooping up wrappers and stuffing garbage bags.

According to Penn State spokesman Jeff Nelson, the players picked up trash in eight sections in the south end of the stadium and around the perimeter of the field. There are 92 sections in the stadium.

Mr. Nelson said the money the football team earned yesterday -- he did not specify how much -- would go toward helping fund Penn State's club sports.

That was an added bonus for those teams, which normally clean the stadium. Yesterday, the men's and women's varsity fencing teams, the power-lifting club, the crew team and dance team joined the higher profile football players in the cleanup.

The April melee and the subsequent fallout from the incident are sore spots with Mr. Paterno. Starting safety Anthony Scirrotto and backup defensive tackle Chris Baker still face charges in the case.

After Mr. Paterno talked to his team, most of the players headed for the buses.

But then linebacker Sean Lee came back out and delivered some bad news.

"Joe said we didn't do a good enough job," the Upper St. Clair High School product said. "We've got to go back."

The players quickly shuffled off the buses and returned to the stadium to finish up their chores. Mr. Paterno dismissed them about 15 minutes later.

The first cleanup assignment was complete, even if the stadium wasn't spotless.

First down and six to go.


Ron Musselman can be reached at rmusselman@post-gazette.com .


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