Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman is confident the Cornhuskers’ football traveling party and fans will be safe this weekend for the game at Penn State, the Nittany Lions’ first since 1965 without Joe Paterno as head coach.
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Crowd control for Saturday’s noon EST game became a concern for some after hundreds of students gathered on campus and in surrounding State College, Pa., following the firing of Paterno on Wednesday night.
”I suppose canceling the game was always an option, but it has not been seriously considered,” Perlman wrote Thursday in an email to The Associated Press. ”We continue to monitor the situation at Penn State but have received assurances that there is currently no reason to consider canceling.”
Police in riot gear dispersed about 2,000 people who took to the streets after Paterno’s firing. Crowds toppled a television news van and kicked in its windows, and at least one photographer was pelted with a rock. Officers used pepper spray at times to control the crowd.
Nebraska regent Tim Clare said he called Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne early Thursday morning to discuss the situation.
”Happy Valley is a pretty interesting place on a normal football Saturday,” Clare said. ”Given what’s developed the last several days, particularly last night, we have a duty to ensure that our football student-athletes, staff, coaches and our fans are safe.”
Penn State police chief Tyrone Parham wrote in an email to the AP that his force is ”taking extra precautions and has added additional resources for the game.” He didn’t elaborate.
Penn State interim coach Tom Bradley urged students to not engage in hooliganism because they’re upset about Paterno’s firing in the wake of the child sex abuse scandal involving former assistant Jerry Sandusky.
”I think the message is clear: Let’s show them what Penn State is really all about … Let’s show class; let’s show dignity,” Bradley said. He said he wasn’t worried about the safety of Penn State’s players on Saturday.
Osborne told Lincoln radio station KLIN he would understand if Nebraska fans chose to wear a color other than red at the game. He added it isn’t feasible to move the game at this point.
Nebraska season-ticket holder Jeff ”Rocky” Sisel of Arlington, Va., who travels the country following the Huskers, said safety concerns won’t stop him from attending the game.
He said he was at the Huskers’ previous game at Penn State, a 40-7 loss in 2002, and he and other Nebraska fans were treated rudely. Sisel said Nittany Lions fans had a vendetta against the Huskers, who were voted national champion over unbeaten Penn State in 1994.
Sisel said he will go with four or five friends to Saturday’s game. He said he’s considered renting a car for the trip because he’s worried his own vehicle will be targeted for vandalism.
”I wouldn’t have thought about it otherwise, but I’m worried about the spirit and the feeling that these students are having,” Sisel said. ”Are they going to take it out on Nebraska people?
”I’m a little nervous, but I’m fine. I’m going to wear the Husker red proudly and hope for the best.”
So will Jana Gross, a 1987 Nebraska graduate who lives in Baltimore. She said she and her husband have had their tickets for two months and are planning to go unless more unrest develops.
”I really think cooler heads will prevail,” she said.
Osborne acknowledged in a statement that Nebraska has had "a number of inquiries from fans regarding the circumstances at Penn State and the conditions they might expect in attending the game.” He said Nebraska officials have talked with Penn State police and interim athletic director Mark Sherburne.
”We have visited with Penn State security and we understand they are enhancing their security efforts for Saturday’s game and are taking extra precautions to ensure that all players, coaches and fans are treated in a respectful way,” Osborne said. ”We know that our fans will reciprocate and display good sportsmanship.”