At Penn State, a football game with more tension off the field

Eric McErlain Sports Blogger
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After a week marked by the departure of four top officials, including its legendary football coach Joe Paterno, Penn State University will have to get back to the mundane task of hosting a football game on Saturday — albeit one that comes complete with death threats and legitimate fears that a student body enraged by Paterno’s dismissal might again riot in the streets.

This will not just be another Saturday in State College, Pennsylvania.

First, let’s talk about the death threats. One of the main players in the sexual assault allegations against former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky is the team’s receivers coach, Mike McQueary. It was in 2002 that McQueary, then a graduate assistant, saw Sandusky sexually assault a 10-year-old boy in the team’s locker room shower. Instead of acting to protect the child or alerting police, McQueary left the facility. After conferring with his father, he arranged to meet in person with Paterno the next day to inform him directly of what he saw.

Since the allegations against Sandusky were first aired last weekend, McQueary has become the object of ire for many, with multiple voices wondering why he didn’t try to stop Sandusky or at least talk directly to police. Still others are wondering why the school was keeping him on the payroll when it seems as if he might be as guilty as Paterno when it came to looking the other way. Late Thursday night, the school announced that McQueary wouldn’t be at Saturday’s game after receiving multiple death threats.

While the university might be acting to protect McQueary, there’s far less it can do for the more than 100,000 fans who will be inside Beaver Stadium on Saturday, when the Nittany Lions take on the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers. Nebraska officials have already expressed concern for the safety of the 20,000 Nebraska fans who will be traveling to Pennsylvania for the game, and have advised those fans to avoid wearing the team color of red inside the stadium.

Such warnings seem only prudent after the way thousands of students took to the streets late on Wednesday night as news of Paterno’s dismissal spread across campus. It didn’t take long for things to take a turn for the worse after a group of rioters overturned a remote truck from an Altoona television station, while others took to pelting police with rocks and bottles.

Add it all up, and there’s little doubt that millions will be watching this game from home when it airs on ESPN at noon on Saturday. Unfortunately, sitting in front of your television may be the only way to watch the game while guaranteeing your own safety.

Eric McErlain blogs at Off Wing Opinion, a Forbes “Best of the Web” winner. In 2006 he wrote a “bloggers bill of rights” to help integrate bloggers into the Washington Capitals’ press box. Eric has also written for Deadspin, NBC Sports and the Sporting News, and covers sports television for The TV News. Follow Eric on Twitter.