JOHNSTOWN - Shane Conlan, a two-time All-American and a star linebacker on Penn State's 1986 NCAA championship team, was in Johnstown Monday to play golf at the Sunnehanna Country Club.
Conlan, now 48, joked with some co-workers and friends before registering for a tournament to benefit the upstart Johnstown Tomahawks hockey team, a squad he, along with fellow Penn State legend Jack Ham, have invested in.
When the discussion shifted from whether Conlan played hockey as a kid to the sanctions against Penn State, the ex-Buffalo Bill's mood turned on a dime.
Mirror photo by Michael Boytim
(From left) Shane Conlan and Jack Ham talk with Jean Desrochers, director of business operations for the Johnstown Tomahawks ice hockey team Monday.
"I thought [the sanctions] were to say the least, harsh," Conlan said. "I think they [the NCAA] over-stepped their bounds. I really do. It's a long way from being over, and obviously it's horrific what happened, but it's not over yet."
Conlan seemed especially upset over the NCAA taking wins away from the program.
"I am totally befuddled about how [taking the wins away] even went down," Conlan said. "How did they decide on 1998? I just feel bad for the kids who played in that era. They're saying that they didn't win a game. I just don't know how they can do that. I really don't.
"Especially with the 1998 case, it was reported to the police, and the police dropped it. I mean, how is that Joe's fault?
"I shouldn't be saying half the [stuff] I'm saying, but it just gets you really frustrated. I don't know how they can do that. I really don't. People say we're going to appeal. There's no appeal. There's one guy making the decision. I just think the NCAA are hypocrites, I really do."
Conlan said the NCAA acted in haste.
"You don't know what is going to come out once they get into the sworn testimony. When guys are under oath, it will be a different outcome, I think," Conlan said. "Not as far as Jerry [Sandusky], but as far as the whole thing. I think [the NCAA] was too impatient.
"I think they thought, 'hey we have got to do something, and we got to flex our muscles.' To me, it's very hypocritical, because they didn't take away any of the TV stuff, because that's where the money comes from."
Ham, who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988, will continue to broadcast Penn State's games on the radio this season as the color man for Steve Jones. He also doesn't agree with NCAA president Mark Emmert's decision.
"The sanctions, for me, were an over-reach by the NCAA," Ham said. "But you know what? We've got to live with it right now and move forward. I think that's what Penn State is doing."
Two of the most outspoken players on the current team since the sanctions were announced are second-generation players Michael Mauti and Michael Zordich. The pair spoke at the Big Ten media day about how much Penn State meant to them.
"[Mauti] is a great kid," Conlan said. "I've talked to him. A friend of mine, Michael Zordich, his son Michael and Mauti are best friends. After games, we'll tailgate a little with them, and both of those guys are great. Those two are going to lead this team this year.
"They are impressive guys and impressive players No. 1, but character wise, what they did, is just incredible. I love Mike, and he is going to be a heck of a player for a long time."
Mauti is the latest in a string of solid linebackers at Penn State that include both Ham and Conlan and have earned the school the nickname, "Linebacker U." Following his career at Penn State, Conlan was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1987 and was an All-Pro linebacker from 1988-1990. After six years with the Bills, Conlan finished his career playing three years with the St. Louis Rams.
"This [scandal] happened way after Jack and I played," Conlan said. "I don't think this tarnishes [the phrase Linebacker U]. Jerry [Sandusky] was obviously a great coach. This took us all by surprise, as you can imagine.
"Joe [Paterno] had a lot to do with Linebacker U, not just Jerry. He recruited guys, and it was his decision. He started with defense first. He built some great athletes. A lot of these guys, including me, came in as running backs and got switched to linebacker. That was Joe that did that."
The Nittany Lions will open their season on Sept. 1 by hosting Ohio at Beaver Stadium. That game will mark the first in new head coach Bill O'Brien's era at Penn State. Including this year, PSU is not eligible to be in a bowl the next four seasons, but Conlan doesn't think that will hinder O'Brien's success.
"I have met Bill O'Brien, and he's one of the few people in my life that I've met that has a presence about him that I am so impressed with," Conlan said. "I think it's a great hire. This guy is so impressive. The kids love him. He knows the game, obviously. I don't think it's going to take him long to have success."
"He was kicking [butt] in recruiting until these sanctions, and then for him to even retain some of the guys he did, I think, is incredible. He's an incredible recruiter and a hell of a coach. I think his staff is so good. He's going to put his mark on Penn State football."
One of the marks O'Brien has already made is the announcement that the Nittany Lion players will have their names on the back of their jerseys.
"Some of my teammates are not too thrilled with some of the changes that are going to happen, but you have got to let the guy do it. It's his program now," Conlan said. "There's not a guy that played at Penn State that doesn't miss and love Joe Paterno, but it's time to move on. We wish he was still here, but we have to move on, and I think we've got the guy to do it."
Ham is also in O'Brien's corner.
"I've had an opportunity to talk to [O'Brien] quite a few times now at Penn State," Ham said. "We are very fortunate to have him. The one good thing that has come out of this is the fact that we have a quality coach in there now. He is fired up with the football team he has right now, and I think they'll play well. They'll play hard for him."