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Passion for Penn State still strong

Hurt by scandal, alumni back team

By Travis Andersen
Globe Staff / November 13, 2011

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Jeff Tinsdale, a Penn State alumnus planning a move to Somerville, likes to wear sweat pants bearing the university’s name during long flights to stay comfortable.

But while packing for a flight from his California home to Boston last week, he had second thoughts.

“I put them back in the drawer,’’ said Tinsdale, a 2007 graduate.

That decision followed the child sex-abuse scandal that has rocked the powerhouse football program and the rest of the university community.

Tinsdale spoke yesterday outside The Greatest Bar in the North End, where dozens of Penn State fans wearing the school colors had gathered to watch the football team play Nebraska. The bar staff did not allow reporters inside.

Virtually all of the alumni who spoke to the Globe said they felt terrible for the alleged abuse victims of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and believed the allegations should have been dealt with much sooner.

However, fans also said they still passionately support the team and the university.

“I will never not be proud of my school,’’ said Katie Huber, 22, of Brookline, who graduated last spring.

Matthew Shimizu, 24, of Somerville, a 2009 graduate, echoed that sentiment.

He said he normally cannot watch the games on Saturdays with other alumni because of his competitive dance schedule.

“But I made a point to come to this one to support my school,’’ he said.

While graduates interviewed yesterday were united in that support, some disagreed over whether those involved in the scandal had acted appropriately.

Most alumni were reluctant to say whether they thought legendary head coach Joe Paterno deserved to be fired last week, after reports surfaced that a graduate assistant told him in 2002 that he witnessed Sandusky sexually assaulting a young boy in a team shower area.

Paterno informed Athletic Director Tim Curley but did not contact outside law enforcement. Paterno also claims that the assistant, Mike McQueary, told him only that he witnessed inappropriate behavior between the child and Sandusky.

Paterno has not been charged with any wrongdoing, and alumni at The Greatest Bar yesterday said they needed to learn more about what he was told before passing any judgment on his conduct.

McQueary, a former Penn State quarterback who has been placed on administrative leave from his current coaching position with the team, did not intervene during the alleged assault.

His inaction in the moment rankled at least one alumnus yesterday.

Rob Umberger, 30, of Needham, a 2004 graduate, said that if he had been in McQueary’s position, he would have acted immediately to stop the abuse.

“I would have at least gotten that child out of there,’’ he said.

But Umberger’s friend, Jonathan Rossman, 28, a 2005 graduate living in Somerville, speculated that McQueary may have been paralyzed from the shock of what he allegedly saw.

“You don’t know’’ what went through McQueary’s mind, Rossman said. “He grew up with the Sanduskys.’’

Rossman said he has been glued to the news coverage of the scandal, which has led to the ouster of Paterno and the university president, as well as criminal indictments against Sandusky, Curley, and another administrator accused of failing to report the alleged assault in 2002.

“When you have such faith in these people [and they become implicated], it’s so depressing,’’ Rossman said.

Despite the pall hanging over yesterday’s game, alumni took comfort in the way the teams conducted themselves.

Players met at midfield and kneeled for a moment of silence before kickoff, a gesture that touched Mary Ellen McMahon, 68, of Rockland, who donates to a Penn State scholarship fund along with her husband, who graduated from the university in 1955.

“I thought that was very emotional,’’ said McMahon. “I was crying.’’

Jared Jones, 32, a Tewksbury resident who graduated in 2001, also appreciated the gesture.

“I thought that was true to the Penn State tradition,’’ he said.

Alumni said they hope the tradition that Jones alluded to continues to define the university, despite the alleged actions of multiple high-level officials.

“It doesn’t change how I’m cheering for the people playing football,’’ said Meghan Russell, 23, a 2010 graduate who lives in Virginia. “Penn State is more than [the scandal].’’

That belief was evident yesterday after the Nittany Lions fell 17-14 to Nebraska.

After the loss, amid the shock of what is widely viewed as the worst scandal in college football history, the school’s signature cheer could be heard inside the bar.

“We are . . . Penn State! We are . . . Penn State!’’

Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.