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A Whiff of Scandal in Happy Valley

December 23, 1997

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) _ This sort of thing isn’t supposed to happen at Penn State, where football players are polite, graduate on time and follow the rules.

But the whisper of wrongdoing _ that an agent bought a $325 suit for star running back Curtis Enis _ has even Penn State fans befuddled.

``He’s 10 minutes from being a millionaire,″ Craig Kauffman said at Ye Old College Diner. ``I’d be surprised he’d be that dumb.″

Up and down College Avenue, fans, businessmen and students wondered about the accusation as the Nittany Lions prepare for the Citrus Bowl against Florida on Jan. 1.

``One allegation in how many years?″ said Troy Allen, a bartender at the Allen Street Grill. ``And who knows if it’s true?″

Stuart MacNeill, 33, grew up in State College and attended Penn State. He’s not bothered too much by the news. He says coach Joe Paterno would never condone breaking the rules.

``A lot of people here have a lot of respect for what he’s done,″ MacNeill said. ``People know Joe’s always been real straight and honest. Players don’t get cars here.″

Ron Bracken, the sports editor at the local newspaper, The Centre Daily Times, could remember only one incident when Penn State even came close to bending an NCAA regulation.

It was in the early 1980s and Paterno mistakenly thought he could attend a letter-signing ceremony for a new recruit. Later, he turned himself in, Bracken said.

``I liken it to the Marine mentality,″ Bracken said. ``You want a few good men, only the elite. We’ll take our chances with them. We’re a cut above. There’s almost an arrogance to it ... which has been fostered by Paterno.″

Sometimes even following NCAA rules isn’t enough for Paterno. Earlier this week, he said Joe Jurevicius would miss the Citrus Bowl because the star receiver hadn’t done well enough in classes.

Such an approach to football has earned Paterno respect among fans, who can accept the idea of losing a top player.

``There’s not a Penn State fan in the world who would want to see our team without Curt Enis,″ said John Black, author of The Football Letter, a weekly game update sent to 140,000 alumni. ``But at the same time people are very concerned about the right thing being done. And that right thing is first protecting the student’s innocence until he’s proven guilty, but also following the rules.″

Enis has told university officials several times he didn’t take a suit from agent Jeff Nalley of Houston. Paterno has said Enis won’t play if he is lying.

For now, many at Penn State are giving him the benefit of the doubt.

``State College is such a fairy tale atmosphere,″ said MacNeill, the Penn State alum. ``People really want to believe in the best.″

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