UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Once Joe Paterno was fired and his veteran assistants were not retained, the longest-tenured football employee at Penn State was Brad “Spider” Caldwell, the equipment and facilities coordinator.
That’s right, the man most connected to Penn State history labored in the equipment room.
Caldwell has been known for the relationships he has cultivated with the players, whom he considered his family. And Thursday, the university announced that he was retiring after 31 years.
“Words cannot begin to express the gratitude I have toward Penn State for all the opportunities it has given me through the years,” he said in a release.
Caldwell maintained the jerseys and the helmets and everything else essential to the uniform. Most recently, he and his wife, Karen, helped sew the names on players’ jerseys for the first time in 2012 and quickly emblazoned the team’s helmets with the No. 42 to honor Mike Mauti in November 2012. Tedious as it might have seemed to others, the work was his passion.
“Not having him in the locker room is going to be tough,” linebacker Ben Kline said in a university statement.
In 1983, Caldwell arrived on Penn State’s campus from Clearfield, Pa., fresh off Penn State’s first national championship. Like many students through the years, he was attracted to the campus by the presence of Paterno. Caldwell started working right away as a student equipment manager and never left.
“There will only be one coach Paterno,” Caldwell said in 2012. “I can’t believe I was a small part of his legacy.”
If he wasn’t the only college equipment manager in the country with a degree of fame, Caldwell certainly had the most. In 2013 ESPN produced a feature on him. Casual fans recognized his name.
Jay Paterno, son of Joe Paterno and a former Penn State assistant, tweeted Thursday, “For years former PSU players visited the football office to see 2 people Joe Paterno & Brad/Spider Caldwell — & not necessarily in that order.”
The Caldwells are moving to Fair Haven, Vt., where they have a vacation home and where he will become activities director at Fair Haven Union High School.
Mark Dent: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05.