One of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s infamous “Deflategate” footballs might be the top draw for a vintage sports auction but for Nittany Lion diehards, another item might be of more interest.
In a Lucite case measuring more than 4 feet square and a foot tall, there is a detailed, three-dimensional architectural model of Beaver Stadium as it stood in 1978. The New York-based auction house Lelands.com called it “one of the finest stadium pieces we have ever offered.”
In 1978, the stadium was being expanded to just more than 76,000 seats. Capacity would be increased in more projects over the years before topping 107,000 and becoming the second biggest in the U.S. and third in the world. Ground was broken for it in 1959 when Joe Paterno was in his ninth year as an assistant football coach under Rip Engle.
The model is marked by a gold plaque on the case that reads “Dedicated to Coach Joe Paterno, built by J.F. Branton, November 14, 1981.”
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The date is 30 years before Penn State fired its longtime coach in the wake of his former defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, being arrested for child sex crimes.
“The impossible find was undoubtedly made possible by the tragic scandal that rocked Happy Valley four years ago, and the university's marketing department sought to sell it off getting rid of it along with the program seemingly itself,” the auction listing reads. “That itself is a key to the fact that this is even available here.”
Lelands Chairman Joshua Evans said he acquired the piece after the university hired a firm to “clean out some things,” and was delighted to find such a remarkable model of a stadium, something he had been chasing for about 30 years.
Information available from online auction site eBay shows the model was sold by Penn State’s Lion Surplus in January for $4,050 with 71 bidders.
The piece is listed with an opening bid of $10,000. At 2:30 p.m., there were no bids. The auction ends July 18.
Few items in the auction have a higher reserve. Those that do include Brady’s ball, Secretariat’s winner’s blanket, Babe Ruth’s jacket, a 1939 Cooperstown Hall of Fame cover with autographs including Ruth, Ty Cobb, Cy Young and Honus Wagner, a Bobby Orr game-worn NHL All-Star jersey and Satchel Paige’s 1971 Hall of Fame ring.
“It’s not just that we consider this piece to be important. It’s that I like it,” Evans said. “When you get into stadium memorabilia, what separates it is if the stadium can stand on its own, not just with relevance to the team, but by itself. Those are few and far between. Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden, Wrigley Field. I think Beaver Stadium ranks there.”
Questions have swirled in recent months about dealing with Paterno’s legacy after the NCAA repealed the historic sanctions imposed after Sandusky’s June 2012 conviction and the university-commissioned Freeh report that placed blame on three university officials who have still not seen a trial and Paterno, who died in January 2012, just two months after being removed from his position.
One of those questions has been about a memorial that is also mentioned in the Lelands listing.
“A similarly tragic fate was met by the famed coach’s bronze statue, which was shortsightedly destroyed. Currently that statue is being rebuilt,” the listing reads.
Paterno’s statue was quietly taken down in July 2012 after much controversy. The university has declined to comment on the statue’s location, but has said that it is safely stored. There have been repeated calls since Paterno’s 409-win total was restored in January to re-erect the statue, including from some members of the board of trustees and from state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, whose lawsuit against the NCAA and Penn State prompted the end of the sanctions.
Evans said he didn’t buy the piece because of the Paterno connection but does appreciate it.
“Now we see there is a little bit of a rewind on all of that — whole situation being re-evaluated,” he said. “There’s no doubt that this guy is an important part of the university. You can’t take that all away.”