By Mark Wogenrich, Of The Morning Call
The kids at football camp laughed at The Great Pretenders, sure, but they really wanted to see Spider's Heisman Dance. Even with his frightful wigs and goofy songs, Jerry Sandusky couldn't top that.
How he tried, though. Sandusky would wear a tacky, frizzy-black wig and belt out his rewrite of "Shout:"
Slide a little bit faster now, hit a little bit harder now.
Or he'd find a frilly red mop of hair and do "Chantilly Lace:"
Ain't nothing in the world like a mean linebacker ...
The Great Pretenders -- Sandusky and fellow Penn State assistant football coaches Joe Sarra and Bill Kenney -- tried everything to win the cheers of kids attending their summer football camps. They danced atop a Penn State Blue Band wagon. They squeezed Kenney into a rubber Batman suit -- "It was 85 degrees," Spider said. "Bill was dying in that thing."
They even arrived at football camp in a hearse. Sandusky waved them back to life with a picture of Joe Paterno taped to a stick.
Nevertheless, the kids tired of the shtick and chanted for Spider (assistant equipment manager Brad Caldwell). Spider appeared, dressed as Indiana Jones or Garth Brooks or James Bond, and did his Heisman Dance wearing a leather football helmet. The kids went nuts. Spider won.
Sandusky, whose competitive streak is boundless, could stand it no longer. He needed to beat Spider at least once in these Football Camp Follies. So a few years ago, he asked the local Army National Guard chapter for a favor.
He wanted The Great Pretenders to sing one of their songs -- after leaping from a plane and parachuting into camp.
The National Guard guys didn't go for it. Sandusky was foiled again.
"I would have paid to see that, though," fellow assistant Tom Bradley said. "Knowing those guys, they'd have ended up in Joe (Paterno's) back yard."
Thought you knew Jerry Sandusky, didn't you? He's the white-haired defensive coordinator pacing the Penn State sideline, screaming and frothing. He's the guy with the bulging forehead vein having "discussions" with Paterno.
He's the guy who wrote the book on coaching linebackers -- it's called "Developing Linebackers the Penn State Way" -- and cooked up the defense that won the 1987 Fiesta Bowl. He's the guy who has coached 10 all-America linebackers and, finally this year, a Butkus Award-winner in LaVar Arrington.
He's the guy who, with his wife Dottie, adopted six kids and has cared for countless other foster children. He's the guy who began The Second Mile, an enormous children's outreach program, in his living room 23 years ago.
Now meet Jerry Sandusky, lounge act. He's the guy who concocted The Great Pretenders to entertain attendees at Penn State's summer football camps. He's the guy who takes The Great Pretenders this seriously.
In 1990, 18th-ranked Penn State visited No. 1 Notre Dame. On the team's charter flight to South Bend, Ind., Sandusky wrote intently on a notepad. Last-minute ideas to contain receiver Raghib Ismail or frustrate quarterback Rick Mirer?
Not really. Sandusky got up from his seat to find Caldwell in the back of the plane.
"Hey Spider, look," Sandusky said, thrusting the notepad forward. "I wrote some great new songs. You gotta hear this one." (Penn State, by the way, beat Notre Dame 24-21).
"That's just me," Sandusky said recently. "I haven't even figured me out yet."
This summer, however, he figured out one thing. After 32 years coaching at Penn State, the last 23 as defensive coordinator, Sandusky decided he had to move on. He had given himself fully for 32 years but couldn't guarantee that for the future.
So before his love became his burden, Sandusky announced his retirement from coaching at Penn State. He ends his career Tuesday, when the Lions plays Texas A&M in the Alamo Bowl.
Sandusky will devote himself full-time to The Second Mile, which has helped more than 100,000 at-risk kids. He also will volunteer with the athletic department's Lifeskills and Outreach programs.
But the "discussions" with Paterno are over. So are the practice-session tirades. And The Great Pretenders?
"They deserve to be retired," Bradley said.
PLAIN AND PROUD
He had the players spellbound. At the annual Quarterback Club banquet this month, every eye, ear and tear was directed toward Sandusky.
"When someone's talking, players usually lose interest after five minutes," cornerback Bhawoh Jue said. "But I looked around, and everyone just stared at him. Even Joe was choked up."
The evening had been a somber memorial to Penn State's 9-3 season until Sandusky took the podium. Two days earlier, Sandusky learned he was receiving the club's Distinguished Alumni Award. That meant he had to make a speech.
What he delivered was a 15-minute mosaic of his time at Penn State that made players and mothers cry. He wrote the speech in his car outside The Second Mile offices. It just poured out, he said.
"It was so heartfelt, so moving," Paterno said. "It made me feel very proud."
Sandusky began by remembering what drew him to the university in the first place. He came to Penn State in 1962, seeking a place like his home in Washington, Pa.
"When I think of Penn State, I think of the words plain and proud," he said. "These are genuine people with tremendous pride. When they do something, they do it with their heart and soul."
A three-year letterwinner at defensive end, Sandusky left Penn State in 1967 for coaching jobs at Juniata and Boston University. Paterno asked him back in 1969, when Sandusky became a full-time assistant coach.
During his banquet speech, Sandusky mentioned Paterno's first orders: "Steer clear of (linebacker) Jack Ham. You'll mess him up."
Sandusky took over as defensive coordinator in 1977 and also began specializing in linebackers. His work with all-Americans such as John Skorupan, Shane Conlan, Brandon Short, Arrington and, yes, Ham helped earn Penn State its "Linebacker U." nickname.
Fiercely devoted to detail, Sandusky drilled players on alignments, angles and attack points until they grew weary. They hear Sandusky shouting "Stay in the curl" in their sleep.
"I learned almost everything I know about playing linebacker from Jerry," said Short, a first-team all-American.
In his speech, Sandusky made special mention of the 1986 team that won Penn State's second national championship. With coverage looks Miami hadn't seen on film, the Lions forced quarterback Vinny Testaverde into five interceptions and won the Fiesta Bowl 14-10.
"That team reminded him how people who are dedicated and driven, how people who pay attention to every detail, can rise to any occasion," said Tom Bradley, who coached outside linebackers and special teams that year.
As a coach, Sandusky upheld the "plain and proud" principles he valued as a player. He never went for walkthroughs at practice. To him, one full-speed play was more valuable than five walkthroughs.
Sandusky also never applauded players diminishing the "plain and proud" principles. In Miami this year, Arrington began taunting the crowd behind the Penn State bench. Then he heard a few screams and a crash.
Arrington turned to see Sandusky -- "his little legs flippering," he said -- on the ground struggling to get up beneath a few chairs.
In his haste to reprimand Arrington, Sandusky tripped over a wire and fell on his face. All the while he shouted to Arrington, "Don't you do that."
"He's a discipline person," Sarra said. "That's because he comes from a strong family and because he's built a strong family."
On and off the field, family is Sandusky's foundation. Before the final home game against Michigan, Sandusky ran onto the field to receive embraces from several players. It was like hugging every player he had coached.
Then he found son Jon, a senior who started on special teams this year. That was like hugging his entire family.
Jon is one of six children Sandusky and Dottie have adopted. He is the second to play football and will be the fourth to graduate from Penn State. Older brother E.J. is head football coach at Albright College.
The Sanduskys also have cared for many foster children over the years -- "The house is always busy," Sandusky said. From that, The Second Mile was born.
Twenty-three years ago, Sandusky set out to develop a group foster home. That grew into The Second Mile, which today has two offices (in State College and Harrisburg), nine programs and 20 full-time staff members. Through camps, counseling, scholarship assistance and many other services, The Second Mile has helped more than 100,000 kids.
It also partly kept Sandusky from leaving Penn State. In the early 1970s, before he became defensive coordinator, Sandusky was offered the head-coaching job at Marshall. He accepted, then went downstairs with the news.
A foster child they were caring for asked to play ball. Other kids were outside sledding. Sandusky knew he couldn't leave.
Overtures from Temple and Maryland followed in the 1990s. He couldn't take them, either.
"I dreamed of being a head coach," Sandusky said. "I dreamed of being a pro baseball player and a pro football player, too. All dreams don't come true."
He covered it all during his 15-minute speech at the Quarterback Club banquet, leaving little for Paterno to say. The head coach barely tried, either. Sandusky had rendered him speechless.
It was fine note upon which to retire.
"If he was speechless, then that was a milestone," Sandusky said. "I'll never equal that one."
His speech included one more milestone. Finally, he could gloat over a victory for The Great Pretenders. 36-1
For the 1998 football camps, Spider devised a breathtaking antic. Driving a Mazda Miata convertible, with a beautiful young woman riding shotgun, Caldwell entered Holuba Hall dressed dashingly in a tuxedo. He was James Bond.
Caldwell spent a few minutes badmouthing The Great Pretenders, with Bond music playing in the background, then pulled the leather helmet from the car and struck his Heisman pose. The kids roared with applause at the first two camps. Then came Camp Three.
Caldwell did his Heisman Dance, grabbed the girl and began driving away. But a campus police car, lights flashing, blazed into Holuba Hall and cut off his escape.
An officer emerged with handcuffs. Caldwell's wife got out of the car, too. Caldwell was taken away for, among other things, fraternizing with another woman and impersonating James Bond.
Sandusky orchestrated the whole phony arrest. The kids loved it, and The Great Pretenders rejoiced.
So in his farewell address, which covered nearly 40 years at Penn State, Sandusky found a moment to note this: The Great Pretenders finally beat Spider. His record is now 36-1.
"That's what I'll remember," Caldwell said. "That's what I'll miss."
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