And Nittany Lion quarterback Anthony Morelli stole the show, despite not being on hand. Morelli, PSU's senior captain, was scheduled to attend the event held at the Alamodome but was a no-show.
Morelli has not talked to the press since Penn State's season-ending loss at Michigan State, where he missed on three late passes that could have kept the Lions in the game.
Morelli also skipped Penn State's bowl media day earlier this month. PSU director of athletic communications Jeff Nelson said Morelli was slated to be at Wednesday's event, but pulled out two hours before it was set to happen.
His absence quickly became the focal point of the press conference, which was attended by PSU offensive coordinator Galen Hall and six offensive players.
“I would not have a clue,” Hall said when asked why Morelli was not there. “We were told to come and this was it.”
Morelli's name placard.
He was then asked if a captain skipping press conferences was a bad example for the team. “I haven't thought about that,” Hall said. “… He's a leader of this football team and we're very happy with Anthony.”
Added receiver Jordan Norwood: “Just like Coach Hall said, we don't personally pay attention to when guys have talked to the media.”
Added receiver Derrick Williams: “Like Coach Hall said, Anthony is doing a great job of leading this team.”
Center A.Q. Shipley, who answered questions about Morelli's absence at PSU's bowl media day, said as the players were being ferried to the press conference in a pair of vans, they were joking among themselves about how they would address the situation this time around.
“We knew we were going to be asked about it,” he said.
Penn State has been holding practices at Alamo Heights High this week, about a 10- to 15-minute drive from the team hotel and Alamodome.
On Christmas Day, however, the Lions had a heavy session at the Alamodome, so they could get a feel for the artificial turf and rather dim lighting in the building. The practice lasted an hour and 40 minutes.
Shipley said the lighting was not a problem.
“And the turf is very similar to what they have at Indiana, so we are kind of used to it,” he reported.
Hall was asked about the way Penn State runs it offense, where he and quarterbacks' coach Jay Paterno collaborate on what plays are called at what time. The perception is that Hall calls running plays and Paterno calls passing plays.
“That's probably the simplest way you can put it,” Hall said, but quickly dispelled any notion that it leads to friction between the two. “… No problems, it has been very smooth for us.”
Hall also addressed rumors that he may retire after this season.
“I plan to be back,” he said.
Shipley and Lion guard Rich Orhnberger both talked about the sheer size of Texas A&M's defensive tackles as being a potential problem for Penn State.
To help prepare for 332-pound Red Bryant and 315-pound Henry Smith, State is using 310-pound redshirting freshman Josh Marks on the foreign team defensive line. Marks spent all of the regular season working out on the offensive line.
Shipley played Santa Claus at the Penn State football team's bowl Christmas party the past two years. But the junior center gave up the role this season, to let someone else have a little fun.
Shipley initially thought walk-on offensive lineman Ross Muir or Marks might take over the role this year. But at the last minute, redshirt freshman defensive tackle Abe Koroma was anointed the program's next Santa.
According to observers, Koroma's debut was extremely well-received by the players, coaches and family members who attended this year's party, held Monday at the team hotel, the Marriott Riverwalk.
“He did a nice job,” an observer said. “He got in a bunch of zingers.”
“Some of them were a little below the belt,” Shipley added with a laugh.
Part of this tradition, which began in the late 1990s with defensive tackle Anthony Adams wearing the white beard and red hat, is for Santa to give all of the children in attendance gifts and generally make wise cracks about their parents while doing so.
Koroma got his biggest laugh when he handed a present to 7-year-old Grace Thomas, the daughter of PSU's drill-sergeant style strength trainer, John Thomas. After Grace received her gift, Koroma looked at Thomas' two boys -- Jacob (13) and Logan (11) -- and told them their present was a 60-minute workout on an exercise machine out in the hall.
The Alamo Bowl will not be played until Saturday, but organizers have already announced that the game will break attendance records for the game and for paid events at the Alamodome.
The bowl officially sold out Dec. 8, meaning this is the toughest ticket to get in the 15-year history of the game. The current record for attendance at the game is 65,875, set when Iowa and Texas squared off last year.
The 1999 Alamo Bowl between Penn State and Texas A&M currently holds the No. 2 spot (65,380).
The largest announce crowd in Alamodome history is 66,835, for the free South Texas Billy Graham Crusade in 1997.
The San Antonio Express-News ran a Christmas Day story titled “It's an Unhappy Valley,” in which it chronicled the off-field troubles the PSU program has had this year. Overall, the story accurately portrayed State's issues.
In the story, however, the paper said defensive tackle Chris Baker, linebacker Navorro Bowman and defensive back Knowledge Timmons, “have traveled with the team [to Texas] despite pressing legal issues in Pennsylvania.”
The paper was obviously using comments Joe Paterno made at his team's bowl media day earlier in the month for the info in question. At the time, the coach said all three players would travel to the bowl but he would not comment on whether they would play.
Last weekend, though, FOS reported that the coach had a last-minute change of heart, and decided not to bring the three players to San Antonio. And indeed, they are not here.
Baker and Bowman both face felony assault charges in connection with a fight at the HUB on the Penn State campus in early October. Timmons faces lesser charges stemming from the same incident.
Baker is also awaiting trial on multiple felony charges stemming from a fight in downtown State College last April.
Hall was asked about the players not being on the trip and declined to answer.
“I think those are things that Coach Paterno has to answer,” he said.
Joe Paterno is not available to the media until Friday.
Penn State player hoping to head straight from practice to a team function at Sea World Wednesday were delayed a bit. Paterno made everyone head back to the team hotel to put on collared shirts.