No way Carl, a 52-year-old ex-big city cop, could miss the Penn State-Nebraska game last Saturday. Positively had to be there in person in the stadium packed with more than 107,000 people in State College, Pa.
But he's not a Penn State fan. Born in Lincoln, Nebraska, he's a crazed Nebraska fan, such a crazed fan in fact that he swears, as an infant, his first words were "cornhusker."
He stayed a few days with an old friend, a local bigwig, who lives with his large family in a big house not far from the Penn State campus. A pretty sharp judge of people, Carl had some insightful observations about the folk in this quiet, isolated college town, rocked recently by a child sex-abuse scandal that dethroned the Penn State god, football coach Joe Paterno:
"It's like 1950. There's a world outside and they don't know it exists. I've been here before and thought these people were a little backward, but in light of what happened this week, it's jumps out at you that their heads are in the wrong place.
"I went to a bunch of parties, from Thursday until I left on Sunday. I met a lot of people, a big cross-section in all ages and colors and classes. They were all for Joe Paterno, felt sorry for him, couldn't understand why he was fired. They sympathized with those students who rioted after Joe was fired. There must be people who think diffferently but I didn't see them--and I was looking for some.
"To people in that town Joe was bigger than life, bigger than the President, bigger than anybody. It's like they can't bring themselves to think he'd do anything bad. Joe is innocent. That's what they were saying.
"These aren't dumb people. But it's like they've been brainwashed. You've got to be there in person and talk to them to see how they think. I didn't talk much. I just listened, trying to get a feel for how they think.
"And they were really into the game. That was the main topic of conversation, even more than Paterno. You'd think they'd feel shame, embarrassment--feel sad for those abused kids. If they felt that I didn't sense it. The game really mattered to them. They live and die with Penn State football. Even in the middle of that horrible scandal, they were so into the game. They were crushed when Penn State lost--crushed."
Carl, who had a hefty bet on his Cornhuskers, was happy they won. But, overall, he wasn't happy about the weekend. "I was supposed to stay until midweek, but I was able to get a flight out on Sunday and I took it," he said. "Nice people--pleasant and hospitable. But there was something really creepy about them. I had to get the hell out of there.".