PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan)- The man was Penn State’s leading scorer in 1970 as a running back. The man became the 13th overall selection in the 1972 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. The man amassed eight, 1,000 yard rushing seasons, was a nine-time Pro-Bowler. He made one of the most iconic plays in NFL history, when he caught a deflected ball just before it hit the ground and scored a touchdown to give the Steelers a deciding 13-7 lead in the 1972 Divisional Round game against the Oakland Raiders. The man went on to win four Super Bowl titles with Pittsburgh and was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990 as a Steeler.
The man is Franco Harris, and this man is also still a full supporter of his former head coach at Penn State, Joe Paterno. Harris joined “The Fan Morning Show” on Tuesday to talk about his alma mater and Paterno.
First, let’s start with DeAndre Levy, now a linebacker for the Detroit Lions, and was formally a defensive standout for the University of Wisconsin. In 2006, while playing for Wisconsin, Levy inadvertently collided with Paterno on the sideline and broke the coach’s left leg.
Recently, Levy said that his proudest moment in college was breaking Paterno’s leg, saying that he was a “dirtbag” for his role in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. This was the first thing Harris addressed when he joined “The Fan Morning Show” live in-studio.
“I really don’t know [Levy] and I guess I’m trying to understand him because he, from what I read, it seems like he is trying to do a lot good things, and it looked like his character is okay,” said Harris. “And then he turns around without any knowledge of the situation and makes a statement like that and so that was pretty disturbing. [He] went to Wisconsin, I’m thinking that he has to be a pretty smart guy, but also I’m thinking he’s ignorant. And he’s definitely on the situation on Joe Paterno.”
“Also to say that to break his leg is his proudest moment…that’s very disturbing. Here’s a helpless man on the sideline, older gentleman. And he breaks this guy’s leg and that’s a proud moment? That’s very disturbing, but there is justice. When you look at what he said, that’s his proudest moment, and then look at his situation now and his injury pattern now, it just makes me you think, ‘Wow there is some justice in the universe here,'” said Harris.
Harris says his support of Paterno is rooted in trying to find the truth. A truth that he believes has not been revealed yet.
“I started out in the beginning where we want to find the truth and along this path, we have found a lot of information,” Harris said. “And we’re going to support and we’re going to fight for our coach. We’re tired of all the lies and all the accusations and it’s time to just have some frank discussion about this sort of stuff.”
Harris stuck around in studio to have such frank discussions. On June 22, 2012, former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts of sexual abuse. Sandusky was then sentenced to a minimum of 30 years and a maximum of 60 years in prison for the assault of ten boys. Harris does not believe that anyone on Penn State’s campus at the time of the offenses knew Sandusky was a pedophile.
“I’m not sure if you ever hear anybody come forward and say that they knew Jerry [Sandusky] was a pedophile in State College, or at Penn State. I’m not sure if one person came forward with that, I don’t know if one person,” Harris said.
Former assistant coach Mike McQueary was a key witness in the Jerry Sandusky trial. According to a grand jury testimony, McQueary reported to Paterno of witnessing Sandusky raping a 10-year-old boy in a campus locker room.
According to reports, McQueary first told his father about the incident, then the next day, informed Paterno, and then ten days later, informed other university officials.He was first criticized for not intervening in the incident and not going straight to the police himself. McQueary later said he made sure the assault stopped before he left.
Harris directly denies that McQueary saw anything of the sort at Penn State and said he talked to him personally about the matter.
“Mike McQueary never saw a sexual act at Penn State,” said Harris. “I think if Mike McQueary would have seen a sexual act, he would have stopped it. Okay? I believe that. Now, he goes home to his father and to a doctor and he tells them he was very upset because he saw Jerry [Sandusky] in the shower with the kid. They asked him, ‘Anything sexual?’ he said no. If he would have said yes, I feel that they would have called the police that night.”
“Then, they tell him to go to tell Joe [Paterno] because he felt uncomfortable,” Harris continued. “The next day, he went to Joe. Now, I asked McQueary myself at Joe’s funeral a few months later, ‘What did you tell Joe? Did you see anything sexual?’ He said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Well, what did you tell Joe?’ And he hemmed and hawed about what he told Joe. I said, ‘Did you see anything sexual?’ ‘No.’ So, when you look at that situation, now like Joe could have dropped it right then, but guess what Joe did? Because Joe supports his players and if with Mike [McQueary] telling him that Joe said, ‘Okay, we are going to go to the head of police and [former athletic director] Tim Curley and like they went and Mike met with them and once again, Mike didn’t see any assault.”
You can hear the audio of what Franco Harris said about all of the above material this in the clip below.
On Sept. 2, 2012, Harris brought a cardboard cutout of Joe Paterno into a luxury box at Beaver Stadium for Penn State’s first game under head coach Bill O’ Brien. He also brought a sign that read, “Due process for PSU JVP.”
Harris says he does not regret his decision to do that because of the history of Penn State.
“If you’re trying to erase our history, that’s not going to happen,” said Harris. “What I’m telling you is, that’s a big part of our history and everybody wants to try to erase that and that’s what people were trying to do and that’s what people wanted to do at that time…you’re not trying to move on, you’re trying to erase something.”
“Since that (allegations coming forth) happened, people have been trying to erase our history the whole way and even the NCAA tried to erase Joe’s history. Everybody tried to erase it. When Bill was hired, I went up there and spoke with the team. I mean, I was a big supporter and I still am a big supporter of Bill O’Brien…it wasn’t anything against Bill. But, when people are trying to erase our history, I’m not going to let that happen,” said Harris.
Harris has made it clear to the students and student-athletes at Penn State right now that this is an issue for him as an alumnus to deal with and not necessarily for them to deal with at this time.
“Hey listen, I want the students to enjoy their college life, okay? That’s what you do,” said Harris. “Like players, enjoy your football, like, enjoy your time there. This our fight, the alumni fight. And so we’ve taken up this fight and so I’ve never gotten in the way of the current players, the current coaches, this is the alumni fight.”
In July of 2016, it was revealed that a disposition from 2014 revealed a man called John Doe 150 in court documents testified that Sandusky touched him inappropriately in a shower room in 1976, when he was 14, and attended a football camp and that Paterno was notified of the matter.
Harris does not believe there is any truth to these allegations.
“[The 14-year-old boy] had the drive to track down and call Joe [Paterno], right? So, this kid had that drive, but yet he didn’t tell anybody else. Didn’t tell his parents, didn’t have the drive to call the police, didn’t have the drive to call anybody else? But, this kid had the wherewithal and the drive to say, ‘I’m going to call Joe Paterno.’ And then Joe blew him off and he dropped it? Let’s look at the logic of things, and I know we get caught up in Joe this and Joe that, but when you look at and break down situations, it just doesn’t make sense. Like I said, first of all, Joe would never blow off a kid or something like that, but then when you follow after that, it doesn’t make sense,” Harris said.
Harris was asked if he has gotten support from Penn State for the “fight” that he has taken on concerning Paterno, or if the school just wants to move on from it.
“From everybody that I’ve talked to, everybody is a supporter of finding the truth,” said Harris.
Finally, Harris does not believe the real truth has been found in this entire case with Paterno’s role in the Sandusky sex abuse scandal.
“I haven’t heard it yet and if you find it, please let me know,” Harris said. “Because if you are just going on allegations and like, no facts, just on what those prosecutors said in that presentment, then we can fight all day. If you want to support the prosecutors and what they said without any proof…remember Joe was never charged. That set the thing in motion, it was a juicy story, right? Everybody jumped on it and they thought that Mike McQueary told Joe that he witnessed [a rape] and that’s not true.”
You can hear the second part of the interview with Franco Harris on “The Fan Morning Show” below.