Michael Pilato wanted to honor the players who stayed.
More than two years ago, the NCAA allowed Penn State football players to transfer without penalty in light of the Jerry Sandusky scandal and sanctions levied against the football program. Two of those sanctions, a bowl ban and scholarship restrictions for next season, were recently lifted.
Pilato, a State College native and world-renowned artist with a continuously growing mural on Hiester Street, decided to add two players who held the football team together through a period that could have decimated the team. He chose to paint former linebacker Michael Mauti and former fullback Michael Zordich for their perseverance and leadership when the NCAA handed down the sanctions.
The mural, called “Inspiration,” will have its 15th anniversary in November.
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Pilato said his painting of Mauti and Zordich, included in part because they helped persuade other players to stay, was part of his annual 48-hour vigil to honor heroes in different cities on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He also painted the victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and Michael Berrigan, a living World War II veteran.
“They kept the team together,” Pilato said Monday morning as he touched up the mural. “They kept it together and didn’t overreact to what was happening around them when the NCAA and a lot of other people were.”
The painting features Mauti and Zordich standing next to each other on The Deli Restaurant’s wall. Pilato placed them there to be near another painting of Joe Paterno. Zordich’s shirt is designed to say “409” and “49.”
Pilato said the 409 represents Paterno’s career wins, which were reduced to 298 wins by the NCAA. The 49 represents the number of players who stayed in the program when they could have transferred without losing a year of eligibility on another team.
“It’s Michael Mauti and Michael Zordich that are up there, and they represent all 49 players that stayed,” Pilato said.
Mauti reacted to the news on Twitter prior to Penn State’s 13-10 win against Rutgers.
“What an honor to be added to the mural with @MichaelZordich. Proud to represent Penn State always. #BeatRutgers,” Mauti said.
Jeff Nelson, Penn State’s assistant athletic director, said by email that Mauti’s and Zordich’s leadership will be remembered by the program and fans.
“Mike Zordich and Michael Mauti were outstanding leaders for the 2012 Penn State football team,” Nelson said. “The role they played during a challenging time will endure among Nittany Lion fans and within the program.”