Last February, Puzzuoli, who played defensive tackle for the Panthers, and Dennis Atiyeh, a linebacker, got into a fight with eight Pittsburgh police officers outside a bar. Puzzuoli and Atiyeh were beaten so badly that, according to Aschenbrenner, who took photos at the police station, Puzzuoli's "underwear was covered with blood," and both players were cut and bleeding from dog bites. The police took a beating, too; seven of the eight were injured. One has testified that he started to go for his gun because Atiyeh "threatened to kill me with my own nightstick," and that Atiyeh "seemed to be highly intoxicated." Many questions remain unanswered about the brouhaha, but a number of people think the players were the victims of police "overreaction."
Fazio was the defensive coordinator at Pitt before getting the head position, and he thinks the Panthers' current defensive zeal started when Green enrolled in 1977. A three-time All-America defensive end now with Tampa Bay, Green brought a spirited abandon not only to games but to practices as well. "Hugh's enthusiasm spread." says Fazio. "At times, practices were hilarious." At other times, they were like wars. A couple of Pitt players who hunted during off-days began to give bear screams during practice. At night they'd lean out their dorm windows and scream "Aaargh!" into the city. Then they did it in games. The Panther defense, ranked among the Top 5 in the country each of the last four years, terrified opponents. "Todd picked it up," says Fazio. "He fit in. He loved to hit."
Through the years several Pitt gridiron stars, including Paul Martha, Mike Ditka and Dorsett, have gotten into ugly scrapes either with the law or with university officials. Fazio himself says he's lucky to have made it out of high school without ending up "dead or incarcerated." Pelusi got into a street fight while at Pitt and was arrested along with two teammates. After a 4½-day trial, the three were cleared of all charges.
Today, at 28, Pelusi is a successful businessman. The club he's sitting in at Oxford Centre in downtown Pittsburgh is part of the $100 million building his firm financed. Pelusi looks back on the incident as an unfortunate but perhaps necessary stepping-stone to adulthood. "Look around," he says, gesturing at the sedate luncheon crowd. "These are some of the city's biggest business people, and I bet not one isn't embarrassed by something he did in the past."
The problem, of course, is surviving the growth process. "People expect Pitt football players to be big shots not only on the field, but off it," says Clinton of The Pitt News. "They have to be the biggest partyers, the biggest drinkers, the wild ones. And they're only human." Maas, an All-America and certain first-round NFL pick next spring, has started to realize this. "You'll be doing great in games for a couple of weeks," he says, "and then all of a sudden you'll take a hard one to the chin and you stop and think, 'I'm not immortal.' "
That such news should have to be learned at all is almost ludicrous. But the myopia of youth may well be a vital characteristic, a trait that helps keep our species on its toes, that keeps us striving against great and even foolish odds. If nothing else, it's one reason the Army drafts 18-year-olds and not contented middle-aged executives.
In October 1982 David Packer, a freshman wide receiver at the University of Rhode Island, apparently fell from a fourth-floor window of a campus dorm and suffered such severe brain trauma that he was not expected to live. He did. however, and though he'll probably never play football again, he may be able to re-enroll at Rhode Island next fall. No one, not even Packer, who has a 20-minute memory gap leading up to the accident, knows exactly what happened. He was probably just carrying out a crazy prank.
Last Friday at 4:15 a.m., Andrew Radcliff, the starting goalkeeper for the Hofstra University soccer team, was critically injured when he fell five stories from a dormitory window. Radcliff landed on his head and suffered multiple skull fractures as well as broken arms and legs and internal injuries. Radcliff had been drinking beer when he and a friend went to the room to visit two female students. Radcliff was sitting on the window ledge, lost his balance and fell.
What disturbs Rod Crafts, Rhode Island's dean of student life, is the way students invariably react to tragedies like Packer's and Radcliff's. "It's one of my duties to counsel close friends of victims," says Crafts. "And the common thread is always there: College students do not see themselves as vulnerable. They often say, 'I thought death was for my grandparents, not for me.' "
But for Becker's parents, death is something that can happen to the young. "I think about him every day, all the time," says Al Becker. "He was my dream. Now I can hardly watch football at all."