Giving 'Em Fitz: Just how did JoePa make valley so happy?

Former Penn State assistant coaches Dick Anderson (right) and Booker Brooks leave court, where they were character witnesses for the defense at the trial of former coach Jerry Sandusky.
Former Penn State assistant coaches Dick Anderson (right) and Booker Brooks leave court, where they were character witnesses for the defense at the trial of former coach Jerry Sandusky. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 21, 2012

BELLEFONTE, Pa. - When, in the classic film that bears his name, the curtain is pulled back to reveal the Wizard of Oz as a mortal, the Emerald City was exposed as a surprisingly ordinary place.

Recently the same kind of transformation has been taking place in another magical kingdom, this one once known, without a trace of irony, as Happy Valley.

One of the most intriguing side-questions raised by the Jerry Sandusky trial, which moved a little nearer to its close here Tuesday, is not whether Penn State football will ever regain its pre-scandal glory, but how in the heck it achieved that success in the first place.

Maybe Joe Paterno was a real wizard. Because if the rest of the staff he built over the decades was as unimpressive as the trio on display this week in the Centre County Courthouse, then JoePa must have won those record 409 games all by himself.

Take Sandusky, who from everything we've been led to believe was the defensive genius who put the linebacker in Linebacker U.

Really?

Even before Marlton psychologist Elliot Atkins testified to that effect Tuesday, Sandusky clearly had some sort of personality disorder.

The bizarre interviews he did with NBC and the New York Times, the creepy smiles that mark his daily entrances and exits at the rear of the Centre County Courthouse, the "love letters," the sleepovers, the "Tickle Monster" shower games all make you wonder how such a man could possibly have played such a key role in one of the nation's premier football programs.

How could this man, seemingly dead-eyed and bumbling, have motivated, inspired and taught generations of successful athletes, dozens of whom became NFL stars?

And what about the two retired Penn State aides who testified as character witnesses for their longtime friend and colleague, despite the fact that he's been charged with 51 counts of child abuse?

Perhaps the shock and strain of this unspeakably sordid case is to blame, but neither Dick Anderson nor Booker Brooks did much to help Sandusky. Or their own reputations.

Anderson, the leadoff defense witness, struck out looking.The 71-year-old, who earned a physical-education degree from Penn State, droned on in an off-putting monotone about the duties that presumably kept him - and by extension Sandusky - too busy for anything except football.

And though he went into excruciating detail about his role as a recruiter, it was hard to imagine how he drew a generation of great players to Penn State.

"Then at 1 p.m on Mondays in the spring we . . .. . ."

He was followed on the stand by Booker T. Brooks, a onetime Paterno assistant who, like Anderson, said he saw nothing wrong with men and boys showering together. Brooks went even further, noting that he sometimes showered with young girls, too.

"I take my grandchild to the local YMCA and since she's not old enough to go into a room by herself, we shower together. I put dry clothes on her. That's common," Brooks said.

Perhaps at the Lasch Building but not where I shower.

Earlier, Anderson appeared to stun prosecutor Joseph McGettigan with his own shower stories.

"You showered with young boys?" McGettigan asked, a tone of incredulousness in his voice.

"Yes, I do," said Anderson.

"Eleven-year-olds?"

"Yes."

"Who you didn't know?"

"Yes. There are regularly young boys at the YMCA showering at the same time there are older people showering."

Beyond personalities, however, this week's courtroom performances lead you to question the vaunted Penn State football staff.

After all, as witnesses and investigators have noted, they apparently took little notice that a suspected pedophile had the run of the football facilities, showered there with young boys, wrote them "creepy" love letters on Penn State football stationary, and, while he was coaching in a major bowl game, brought at least one youngster onto the sacrosanct sideline.

Maybe we've all been wrong. Maybe the fact that none of his colleagues seemed to notice anything strange about a man who by any conceivable measure was off the strangeness chart wasn't sinister at all.

Ironic, isn't it?

A place and a program that always liked to brag - for the most part with good reason about its academic prowess - might forever be scarred by dim-wittedness.


Contact Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068, ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com, or @philafitz on Twitter. Read his blog, Giving 'Em Fitz, at www.philly.com/fitz.

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