Skip to comments.Amid sanctions, Penn State's seniors salvaged season
Posted on 01/06/2013 12:11:16 PM PST by FlJoePa
Amid sanctions, Penn State's seniors salvaged season
By Scott Brown
Published: Saturday, January 5, 2013, 11:55 p.m. Updated 15 hours ago
Coach Bill OBrien often cant say enough about the role Penn States seniors played in leading the Nittany Lions to an improbable 8-4 record this past season.
But two key words offer the simplest explanation of why this senior class will go down as perhaps the most important in Penn State football history: Charlie Mike.
That is military shorthand for the initials C.M., which stand for Continue Mission. Following an inspirational speech from a former Nittany Lion and Navy SEAL, those words became the rallying cry for the players in August. And the code words help tell the story of a group that refused to let Penn State fail after crippling NCAA sanctions in July triggered widespread predictions of collapse.
Notre Dame and Alabama play for the national championship Monday night, bringing an end to the college football season that capped the most trying year in Penn State history. If the Nittany Lions one day rejoin the elite in college football, 2012 will go down as a seminal season.
Senior leaders, many of whom composed an unheralded recruiting class five years earlier, helped prevent a mass exodus of underclassmen in the days after the sanctions were announced. The Tribune-Review talked exclusively with a handful of those players, including outside linebacker Michael Mauti, about how they held the team together during the most precarious time in program history.
The efforts of Mauti and his fellow seniors started the same day the NCAA slapped the program with sanctions that included a four-year postseason ban and allowed all players to transfer without penalty. That night, Mauti and running back Mike Zordich showed up unannounced at the on-campus apartment of defensive tackle Jordan Hill.
We need to keep this (expletive) together, they told Hill after he opened the door.
The players met with OBrien, who was six months removed from a trip to the Super Bowl as New Englands offense coordinator, shortly after the NCAA sanctions were announced.
He didnt show weakness of hoping guys would stay or begging guys to stay, said senior offensive tackle Mike Farrell, a Shady Side Academy graduate. He was honest, but he was firm with the plan that he had, and I dont think he could have done it better any other way.
The seniors pledged to stay together almost immediately after the sanctions were unveiled, and they took the lead in persuading underclassmen not to flee the program.
Hill talked to every defensive lineman and told them to call him at any time with questions or doubts.
I may not have the answer, he said, but I will help you.
Senior cornerback Stephon Morris, to whom the concept of loyalty is fiercely personal, talked to the defensive backs about how he planned to honor the commitment he had made to Penn State. Sophomore cornerback Adrian Amos and freshman cornerback DaQuan Davis thanked Morris afterward. Both told Morris that they hoped to lead like him one day.
Mauti and Zordich kept detailed notes on every player and where each stood as far as staying at Penn State or leaving. The two players would work out first thing in the morning and try to stay in front of the fluid transfer situation in the afternoon.
Nights were spent in OBriens office, as Mauti and Zordich shared notes on what they were hearing with the head coach and strength coach Craig Fitzgerald. Mauti and Zordich outlined scenarios in which a player might leave and what player or players he might follow out of Penn State.
Going to bed at 3 or 4 at night and wake up at 6 in the morning and doing it all over again, Zordich said of the days after the sanctions were announced. We had it all mapped out.
Not that everything followed script.
Mauti found out one day that two of his teammates were visiting Michigan State, and he reached one of them by cell phone. After he delivered a pitch as to why they should stay at Penn State, the two turned around and headed back.
Mauti declined to name the players, but he said the anecdote illustrates how fine a line there was between keeping the program together and watching it crumble.
The first significant loss came a week after the sanctions were handed down when star tailback Silas Redd made official his plans to transfer to Southern Cal.
OBrien had previously invited hundreds of former lettermen back to Penn State, and they were scheduled to address the team that night. OBrien told them following the loss of Redd that he needed their help.
The boat isnt sinking, OBrien said to them. It is rocking.
A galvanizing speech
No former player did more to galvanize the current ones than a walk-on whose name might not register with even the most avid Penn State fan.
Rick Slater joined the team in the late 1990s, at age 28, after serving eight years in the military. After 9/11, he re-enlisted, and by the time OBrien had asked him to address the 2012 team, the Navy SEAL had served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Players sat at attention as Slater brought to life abstract values such as duty and honor. He talked to them about how his life depended on trust and knowing the guy next to him would fight for him.
Then Slater took off the football belt he had worn at Penn State. He told the players that it had been on every continent and that he had worn it during every mission.
That, he said, was how much Penn State football meant to him.
That was one of the more powerful moments of that speech, Mauti recalled.
Slater concluded by exhorting the players to Charlie Mike continue mission.
The words made their way onto T-shirts as well as the wall of Penn States weight room.
Players would often bark the words in unison after they broke a team huddle. And Charlie Mike is the reason Penn State didnt unravel after opening the season with back-to-back losses for the first time since 2001.
We didnt have any come-to-Jesus meetings in that aspect among seniors or among players, Farrell said of the start that included a demoralizing one-point loss at Virginia. We just maintained that idea that we were just going to refuse to be denied.
Penn State won seven of its next nine games, and the team that was not allowed to play in a bowl game turned into one of the stories of the year in college football.
Players, however, chafed at the notion that Penn State would play with house money in the regular-season finale since it already had guaranteed itself a winning record.
Mauti, after all, had taped Slaters speech from more than two months earlier inside his locker for a reason.
Charlie Mike indeed.
The night before the final game against Wisconsin, OBrien asked every senior to address the team.
Morris talked about his father, Roman, who had raised him after his mother tried to give him away at age 2 and how much Penn State meant to both of them. Hill told the team about his father, who had suffered a stroke a couple of years earlier and taught his son the real meaning of perseverance.
Mauti talked about everything he had been through at Penn State, which included three season-ending knee injuries, the firing and death of former head coach Joe Paterno and the fallout from the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
The next day, Penn State placed the 2012 team in the schools ring of honor. The Nittany Lions wore No. 42 on their helmets to honor Mauti, who could not play against Wisconsin after injuring his knee the previous game. Outside linebacker Gerald Hodges switched from No. 6 to No. 42 as a tribute to his teammate and close friend.
Hill, who had suffered two knee injuries earlier in the season, dominated the game on one healthy leg. Maligned kicker Sam Ficken booted a 37-yard field goal in overtime. The Badgers couldnt match the field goal after Hill wrecked yet another Wisconsin possession.
A glowing scoreboard on a bitterly cold night at Beaver Stadium said it all: Penn State 24, Wisconsin 21.
Charlie Mike officially had turned into completed mission.
In the glow of a victorious locker room, Zordich spread the two words. They were the password to get players and their families into a private party later at a popular State College restaurant.
More than six weeks later, Charlie Mike offers the most succinct summation of a season that wont soon be forgotten.
We understood that it was just bigger than us and having gone through so much in our careers and more adversity than any other team and program in history, we came out with our guns blazing and with our hair on fire, Mauti said. Thats the only way I want to be remembered. We lit our hair on fire back in July, and we just played as hard as we could on every play until our last play.
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If their place kicker had not turned tail and run, they would have been 9-3.
Fera had a sick mom in Texas (cancer). He’s the only one that gets a pass in my mind.
I attended the last game. It was something special. Silas Redd missed out. So glad Sam Ficken had such a good game.
I think Sam is going to be a great kicker. It was a shame the way the announcers throughout the season literally laughed at him on the air. As Joe would say - "Believe deep down in your heart that you're destined to do great things"...
Do you have any proof of what you just stated? Because if you do, I’d love to hear it. The AG’s office would probably like it as well, because they are about to drop their charges against Schultz, Curley, and Spanier.
Joe Paterno was never accused of a crime and was actually praised by the AG’s office for his cooperation.
If you have something, you should come forward. Seriously.
Thank you for a beautiful photo. Sam must treasure it to have it on his Fb page. Sam made a great tackle in the Wis game. It was good to hear him cheered for that. Glad his season ended with him kicking the winning points.
The Freeh report. Give it a read.
I’ve read the freeh report at least a half dozen times. All 267 pages of it. There is no evidence of anyone from Penn State (especially Joe Paterno) “covering up” anything regarding js.
Did you find something in there that I missed? Or did you just listen to espn?
Check out the mini-movie (soon to become a documentary) on the Framing of Joe Paterno. I won’t even link it. Go google it on your own.
You can stand with louis freeh. I’ll stand with Joe Paterno. I know which one is honorable.
If you are truly interested in the amount of coverup of higher up Penn State oficials go here!!
Are you serious, One doesn’t have to get any further than Pg 14.
That is freeh’s summary. He was hired by the b.o.t. to justify their decision in firing Joe Paterno and his putrid summary isn’t backed up with evidence. At all. As in zero.
If Joe Paterno wanted to cover up anything why did MM testify? Why did Joe testify? Why did Joe go to Curley and Schultz? Why did Joe send MM to Curley and Schultz?
Doesn’t sound like much of a cover up to me. A cover up would be something like “Hey Mike...we have too much riding on this. You keep your mouth shut.”
How did louis freeh’s FIFA investigation turn out?
But the new kicked improved immensely.
Oh, well if espn says it’s so, I guess it’s so. They’ve been telling me all week what a saint ray lewis is, so they must know what they’re talking about.
Leave him alone. You’re just trying yo browbeat him.
I appreciate this story.....thanks for posting it. I still remember Mauti and zorich the day they spoke to the media. They and Jordan Hill are true leaders.
He did and good for him.
Further, the mini movie was created by John Ziegler who did “Media Malpractice” on the 2008 election and Sarah Palin. You might have heard of him. He has zero ties to Penn State. He just doesn’t like lying media and the jackals who lap up their slobber.
louis freeh is a known, proven liar. It’s funny how he’s now a superstar in the eyes of some “conservatives” on this forum.
He could tell me it’s raining outside and I’d have to stick my head out a window to believe him.
But if he’s your guy - he’s your guy. I’ll just say this. Stop quoting him and start providing EVIDENCE. He certainly didn’t provide any in that fraudulent report.
Well obviously you don’t believe those horrible eye witness accounts, you just give the guy who said he saw it a job for ten years, let your buddy who he accused retire, then watch him parade boy after boy around your facilities for the next decade!
See, this is why this discourse is so important. I had no idea MM told Joe Paterno that js was sexually assaulting a young boy in the shower. This is another case-breaking seminal moment that you and Stephen A Smith have apparently uncovered. You’re in such good company.
Have you read MM’s testimony - what has been made public? I have. Do you have access to quotes from MM that I don’t? You must to come to that conclusion.
Penn Staters want the truth. If you have information that can help the AG’s office prosecute Spanier, Schultz, and Curley, I suggest you step up now and offer your help.
As for js being Joe’s “good friend”, well “good try”. Just another myth that you’ve apparently bought into.
The report is what it is. There’s nothing in it. The summary and subsequent news conference is completely fraudulant. It’s nothing short of fiction - Harlequin Romance type fiction.
As for Penn Staters being victims, well...sorry, but it’s the truth. No one has done MORE for victims of sexual abuse since 11/11 than Penn Staters. They’ve donated more money, more time, and more resources than anyone. For that, they get treated (in some instances) as if they themselves molested children. At the very best, they’re labeled “cult members” (your schtick) when all they really want is the truth.
Watch and learn what happens in the coming months. Depending on the “standing” ruling in Corbett’s lawsuit against the ncaa, you could be looking at the end of that organization as we know it.
js was not a member of the football staff after 1999.
He was allowed access to the campus by the academic side due to his tenure.
I am guessing that his forays into the sports facilities were made only when JoePa was not there.
Oh look, I just made a Freeh report.
I can just as easily say that you beat your wife. I have just as much proof. But you think what you want.
The 1998 incident went to the county child protective services folks and the police. It was determined at that time there was not enough evidence to pursue a prosecution of Sandusky.
What did Paterno do? He fired Sandusky.
He had no day-to-day contact with js after that and was not a party to js having access to the campus after that.
Now if you have evidence of Paterno driving the busload of young boys to Sandusky’s to be molested, please come forward with that evidence.
js was the perp who was rightly convicted of this crime. He probably should have gotten the death penalty for what he did.
Anyone still believing what ESPN says on the PSU matter is a fool. ESPN covered up the child molestation at Syracuse...and has spending all hoops season cheerleading Jim Boeheim....who knew firsthand that his buddy Bernie Fine was molesting boys.
Paterno was scum and created a corrupt culture where any atrocity would be ignored or excused for decades. Scum. Victory with no honor. Decades of observing a known pedophile taking boys on away games to banquets to games and to the shower. Have you no shame?
I can't say it better than that. Let me just add a little. With so many decades of preaching and teaching the meaning of honor, Joe Paterno was one of two things: a bald faced liar that lived a lie his entire life or slandered. Paterno was not Sandusky, who will surely go to hell.
When the ugly matter first came to light, PSU apologists were quick to point out that Sandusky retired, because to say Paterno fired Sandusky was to say Paterno had knowledge of Sandusky's nature in 1998 or 1999.
Remember that Sandusky announced his retirement on July 1, 1999, effective the end of the season. Sandusky coached the entire 1999 season, including the Alamo Bowl.
If Paterno 'fired' Sandusky, then he gave Sandusky the entire 1999 season in which to continue to bring Victim #4 to pre-game banquets and sleepovers at Toftree's, all the while knowing Sandusky was a pedophile.
No one should hold the Jerry Sandusky situation against these young men - they had no responsibility for his actions nor any cover up - they were also victims of the situation. (Of course, not nearly as victimized as the young men that JS molested.)
Paterno did not fire js. js voluntarily retired at the end of the 1998 season after Joe telling him he spent too much time with the second mile, and that he would never succeed him because he wasn’t dedicated enough.
js took advantage of a then bargain state retirement plan and that put in place all the emeritus status crap (that Joe had nothing to do with).
In 1999, PSU didn’t have a defensive coordinator and hired js back on a consultant basis to basically be the defacto DC. The following year Tom Bradley took over.
js was never fired. He retired, was re-hired for a year, and then gone.
This is spelled out crystal clear in Posnanski’s book. Posnanski (who basically lived with the Paternos for over a year) also makes it clear that Joe didn’t know about 1998.
The factfreeh report actually gets one thing right in stating that there was no connection to js’s retirement and the 1998 accusation.
Paterno did not allow js to retire, that was above Paterno’s pay grade. With no criminal charges there was probably nothing else the administration could do.
js having campus access was due to his tenure, another decision above Paterno’s pay grade.
You can bet that they did not meet at the local coffee shop on Saturday mornings.
I can only guess, but I would surmise that when the 2001 allegations came out that Paterno probably got on the phone with the people responsible for js still being around and gave them a peice of his mind. At the time of the 2001 allegations Paterno followed state law and reported the incident to his superior.
I’m just curious, what should Paterno have done that would not have violated state law and opened himself up to possible prosecution?
Paterno was not the ‘God’ that his naysayers refer to him as. He was God of the football program, but outside of the program he was just another tenured professor.
You’re asking me to prove a negative? How about you prove to me that Joe DID know about 1998.
If he WAS told about 1998 (it would have been by Schultz), then Schultz would have been violating PA law. Which makes perfect sense.
Franco has spoken on this very issue numerous times. Maybe you should check out some of the work John Ziegler and Franco have been doing instead of listening to mike and mike.
Franco is also on record (on video) saying MM told him he told Joe practically nothing that morning. Is Franco a liar now?
So how do you see fit to blame and penalize the players past and present for something the Penn State administration was accused of doing?
You keep using the words “cover up” as if they are facts. They aren’t.
The looming trials of Schultz, Curley, and Spanier will determine that. If they ever happen.
You obviously still need some life lessons. So we’ll start with because someone says something - say louis freeh or mike greenberg - it doesn’t make it true.
There is no “cover up”. There was no “cover up”. It makes no sense. If there was a “cover up”, why all the testimony? You run your mouth, but you don’t think.
It was just a bunch of bumbling administrators trying to deal with someone that (at the time) they thought had “boundary issues.”
Looking back, it’s easy to pile on knowing what we know now. At the time, they didn’t know anything. One incident (1998), which was obviously deferred by every local agency.