St. C. native Morgan won’t think about JoePa any differently
When Dan Morgan was recruited to play college football, he had plenty of options.
The 1982 St. Clairsville graduate took official visits to West Virginia, UCLA and Kentucky. However, there was just something about Penn State that Morgan was unable to resist.
He actually admits that while he took official visits to the other schools, his mind had long been made up about his future.
“All in all, Penn State was probably the only place I was ever going to go,” Morgan said during a phone interview. “Penn State not only recruits you, but it recruits your family first and then it doesn’t have to bother selling you on it.”
After arriving on campus, Morgan quickly realized that everything he had seen, read and heard about Penn State was totally accurate.
“You can summarize Penn State with one word … class,” Morgan said.
When anyone thinks about Penn State, the first thing that jumps into their minds isn’t the engineering program from which Morgan graduated.
The first thought of Penn State is Joe Paterno and this past week has been all about the memory of JoePa after his passing one week ago from cancer.
When the news first broke Saturday night and was then determined to be false, Morgan had held out hope that Sunday’s news would eventually be denied by the family. However, that didn’t happen.
“There was a sinking kind of feeling when I heard the news,” Morgan said. “I always held out hope that he would surivive it and then rebound from it.”
Morgan, who started on the offensive line for two years and helped the Nittany Lions to the 1986 National Championship after they upset No. 1 Miami in the Fiesta Bowl, 14-10, made the trip back to State College this week for the funeral proceedings.
“It was a difficult time, obviously,” Morgan said. “But, it really wasn’t that somber because you’re with so many great friends and you’re sharing all sorts of memories and experiences involving Joe.”
Like so many other former players, Morgan’s fondest memories of he and Paterno’s relationship were positive.
“You always tend to remember the silly things, and I was no different than most of the other guys on the team,” Morgan said.
Players in the 1980s weren’t as into weight training and getting ‘big’ as they are now.
“We were a lean football team,” Morgan explained. “One day, I was in the lobby of the football facility and after weigh in, Coach Paterno walked by and said, ‘Danny, you’re fat.’ There was no hi, hello or how are you? He told me I was fat and kept walking.”
It’s those kinds of memories or the thoughts back to when Morgan was hosting a recruit and Paterno ran into the two at almost 5 a.m. in a 24-hour diner on campus.
“I was eating and I heard that voice,” Morgan recalled. “Joe was coming into the diner because he was taking a recruit to the airport to catch a 6 a.m. flight. He spotted me and said, ‘Danny, what are you doing here?'”
After supplying an answer, Paterno never made issue about it again and from that point on, Morgan knew he was well-liked by his coach.
“There was no backlash or punishment for having a recruit out too late,” Morgan said. “I always knew Joe had a soft spot for me because he made light of that day.”
Much like Bellaire High product Lance Mehl, Morgan was heavily recruited by former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who’s in the middle of the sex scandal, which has rocked State College since the news broke in November.
Prior to making the 8-hour trip from his home in Cincinnati back to State College last week for the funeral proceedings, Morgan had last visited his alma mater at the end of October for a reunion of the Nittany Lions’ 1986 National Championship squad.
At that time, which was just a few days prior to the grand jury indictment being announced, he didn’t sense there was even anything wrong or eating at Sandusky.
“I had heard there had been some kind of investigation, but Jerry was there and seemed like he didn’t have a care in the world,” Morgan said. “When that indictment rolled out, it was just embarassing and every other adjective you can think of.”
After the news broke, the backlash in the national media went to all-time highs and their message came across loud and clear to the Penn State Board of Trustees, which decided to teriminate Paterno amid the scandal just a few days after the news broke.
Obviously, the termination of an iconic legend turned State College into ‘Unhappy Valley’ and sent shockwaves across the country to the legions of Nittany Lion alums.
“I thought it was ridiculous,” Morgan said of Paterno’s firing. “I thought the trustees were too rash in their actions. I just don’t think everyone was aware of (Sandusky) like the media is making it out. I just don’t see why Paterno would have a motivation to cover it up.”
Morgan firmly believes that Paterno took the necessary steps when he was informed by then graduate assistant Mike McQueary about what he has allegedly witnessed, involving Sandusky, a youth male and the shower.
“Joe did what he should have done,” Morgan said. “(McQueary) didn’t say there was a crime committed, so Joe took what he was told and went to his superiors. In my eyes, he took the appropriate action.”
What the sex scandal, allegations and firing does to Paterno’s legacy will probably be long debated, but there’s no debate for Morgan.
“No part of his legacy will ever be tarnished in my eyes,” Morgan said. “I suppose his legacy will be tarnished in the minds of a small amount of people, but I just think there are far too many top-shelf things he did for the players, his family, football and Penn State University for his legacy to be damaged.”
Like so many Penn State alumni and former players, Morgan is from the school of thought that Paterno actually passed away from the effects of a broken heart.
“Joe had always been really healthy,” Morgan said. “I am not saying his (cancer) wasn’t real because it was, but I think Joe would have had more resistance and fought more. It’s just difficult to believe that the cancer had progressed that far in such a short time.”
As for the future of the program, Morgan was encouraged about it after spending time with some of the other alumni and hearing more and more about recently hired Bill O’Brien, who is currently the offensive coordinator with the New England Patriots.
Morgan was well-aware of the backlash from some of the notable former Nittany Lions such as LaVar Arrington, who took to Twitter to let his feelings be known about the PSU hire.
“I think some of the guys spoke out of turn because that’s certainly not the majority,” Morgan said. “I was talking to Shane Conlon and he thinks it’s a great hire. I suppose they probably spoke out because they were out of the loop, but Bill spoke to the lettermen’s group this past week and he seemed like a great guy. I am all for giving him the opportunity to do the job because I think he’ll be a great coach.”
Morgan, who still has family living in the Ohio Valley, makes the trip to State College at least once a season for a game.
“I used to get back for two games, but there isn’t enough weekend now that my kids are getting involved with activities,” Morgan said. “We usually go early in the season, that way it’s easier for us to get together as a group.”
Staskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org