Terriers recall Sandusky’s BU days
1968 season had drama, but nobody saw scandal coming
There once was a Boston University football player who did to Jerry Sandusky what many others recently have talked about doing. He threw punches at him.
Long before Sandusky was charged with raping boys in a scandal that has shaken college athletics, disgraced Penn State, and destroyed numerous careers, he was fending off a student-athlete during a BU football practice.
It was fall 1968. Tom Menino was just another guy from Hyde Park, “The Boston Strangler’’ was premiering at the Music Hall, and Sandusky, 24, was BU’s new offensive line coach.
Bobby Marcus, a senior cocaptain and lineman, took exception to Sandusky’s coaching and instigated a fistfight on the new AstroTurf at BU’s Nickerson Field. Marcus was dismissed from the team for disciplinary reasons, and he since has died.
But he is not forgotten by his teammates, some of whom are so angered by Sandusky’s alleged crimes that they regret not having punched him themselves.
“I would have dropped him on the spot,’’ said Peter Dexter, a Newton native who played and roomed with Marcus.
Dexter and many other ’68 Terriers were shocked to discover they had been coached by a man of two destinies, one as an exemplary football innovator, the other as a purported sexual predator. Most remembered Sandusky as a rising star, rich in pedigree and charisma, who was eager to rejoin the coaching staff at Penn State, where he had served as Joe Paterno’s graduate assistant in 1966 after playing three years for the Nittany Lions.
A few BU players revered Sandusky for his generous spirit, and none recalled any behavior that would have foreshadowed him becoming an international face of evil.
“If the allegations are true, then this is a classic case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,’’ said Jim Norris, who coached and lived with Sandusky at Penn State after his BU football career. “I didn’t know him as Mr. Hyde, but when he was Dr. Jekyll, he was the greatest guy in the world.’’
The Sandusky firestorm has caused some soul-searching among his former BU players, all of whom are in their 60s. Did they miss something? Was Sandusky secretly acting on a criminal impulse while they were occupied as student-athletes amid the national unrest over the Vietnam War and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy? If not, then what sinister force caused such an apparently righteous man to allegedly commit crimes so heinous he could spend the rest of his days in prison?
Sandusky, 67, has pleaded not guilty to 40 charges, including seven counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse.
“The Jerry Sandusky we knew was an outstanding human being and coach,’’ said John Williams, a defensive lineman in ’68. “It’s heartbreaking to see what has developed, but if the allegations are true, then I’ll bet 80 percent of my teammates would support a public execution.’’
In his lone season at BU, Sandusky made plenty of friends, especially among players from his native Pennsylvania. Some recalled Sandusky and his wife, Dottie, hosting a dinner for the Pennsylvania players at the Waltham duplex the couple split with Foge Fazio, a former BU coach.
Fazio had alerted Sandusky to the job opening at BU when he left for Harvard after the ’67 season. BU’s athletic director at the time, Bob Peck, recalled having no reservations about hiring Sandusky, who had played defensive end at Penn State before working as Paterno’s unpaid grad assistant and serving as a salaried assistant coach in ’67 at tiny Juniata College near Penn State.
“It blew my mind when this stuff came out because it was so uncharacteristic of the Jerry Sandusky I knew,’’ Peck said.
Sandusky never had lived beyond small-town Pennsylvania, and he received a harsh welcome to Boston. In his ironically titled memoir, “Touched: The Jerry Sandusky Story,’’ he recalled leaving the door of his temporary dorm room unlocked his first day on the job and returning to find his clock radio and clothing stolen.
“I wondered right then what I had gotten myself into,’’ Sandusky wrote. “Life was much faster there in the big city, and the people weren’t very friendly.’’
Sandusky expressed his friendliness in part by organizing flag football games after practice, said cocaptain Jay Donabedian. He also impressed BU’s basketball coach, Charlie Luce, with his basketball ability during noontime pickup games.
But Sandusky was not particularly happy in Boston. He recalled in his book that no one helped him when he swerved into a snow drift on Commonwealth Avenue, and he expressed dismay at seeing “so many helpless and hopeless people’’ on the streets.
He banked on a strong coaching performance at BU leading him home to Happy Valley. To that end, Sandusky spearheaded a crackdown on the football team’s lax discipline. He also supported replacing some senior starters with underclassmen, which angered Marcus.
Though Sandusky did not name Marcus in his book, he wrote of encountering trouble with a captain who was dismissed for disciplinary reasons.
“He thought he was tough because he was a bouncer in a couple of bars,’’ Sandusky wrote, “but I didn’t think he had the toughness we needed on our team.’’
The Terriers went 5-3-1 that season, led by five players who went to the NFL: Bruce Taylor, Pat Hughes, Reggie Rucker, Fred Barry, and Barry Pryor. Some credited Sandusky with helping to create the climate that enabled the ’69 team to go 9-2 and win a berth in the Pasadena Bowl. (BU eliminated its football program in 1997.)
“He was always enthusiastic and trying to motivate people,’’ said Pryor, a running back from Pennsylvania who played two seasons with the Dolphins. “He was the kind of guy you liked being around, which is probably why those Penn State guys didn’t do enough to report him. They probably loved him.’’
Hughes, a linebacker from Everett High who played 10 NFL seasons with the Giants and Saints, recalled Sandusky’s arrival at BU raising hopes because of his Penn State credentials. “I don’t remember much else about him,’’ Hughes said, “but I’m blown away by the allegations.’’
So is Darryl Hill, an offensive lineman who best remembers Sandusky’s kindness. Sandusky had returned to Penn State after the ’68 season and learned the following year that Hill had been suspended for three games for an altercation. The night before the second game of his suspension, Hill was sitting alone in his room, his teammates having traveled to a road game.
“I was bouncing off the walls,’’ Hill, now a Pennsylvania physician, recalled. “I couldn’t take it.’’
Then Sandusky called and invited Hill to join him the next day as he scouted a Boston College game for Penn State. Hill later reciprocated by supporting The Second Mile, Sandusky’s youth charity. Now he wonders if Sandusky created the program to prey on children.
“It’s hard to believe someone could lead a second life like that,’’ Hill said. “If Jerry did this, then he deceived a lot of people, including me.’’
Norris, a defensive lineman from Pittston, Pa., also aided The Second Mile after Sandusky helped him land a graduate assistant’s job at Penn State in ’71. Norris lived with the Sanduskys for a year, often baby-sitting for two of their six adopted children. Norris later coached high school football and took many players, including his son, to visit Sandusky.
“The big question is, why did Jerry and the people at Penn State do what they did?’’ Norris said. “I don’t have an answer.’’
The mystery troubles his teammates, too.
“I can’t help thinking how the Jerry Sandusky we knew as a glory boy could have descended into this,’’ said John Doriss, a Cape Cod chiropractor who played offensive tackle in ’68. “Will we ever know?’’
Bob Hohler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.