Front row, second from left. There was no way of knowing, way back in 1983, that the little guy with the glasses, a freshman member of the football equipment staff, would stick around for three decades. But James B. Caldwell ’86, better known as Brad, and far better known as Spider, did just that. Along the way, he became in many ways the heart and soul of the Penn State football program.
There’s not much we can say about Spider that hasn’t been said by everyone who knows him, because everyone who knows him loves him. I don’t know Spider well, but whenever we’ve connected, he’s been the same: Great, genuine guy, happy to talk, happy to accommodate any reasonable request for his time or knowledge. No one knows or loves Penn State football more, and no one has been a better representative of the Nittany Lion family.
Family. He is beloved by media, fans, and alumni—his locker room presentation during the Beaver Stadium tour on the Alumni Association’s Traditional Reunion Weekend is an annual highlight—but the ones who know and appreciate him most are the guys on the team. Simply put, Spider is the guy who took care of them. He showed them the ropes when were wide-eyed freshmen, and he greeted them when they came back five or 10 or 20 years later. “He always had the pulse of the program,” says Chuck Penzenik ’97, the former defensive back. “Every time I’ve gone back, he’s always there. Spider was always there.”
I spoke to Penzenik this morning for a story on the 20th anniversary of the ’94 team, but you could ask any Penn State football player from the past 30 years, and they’d say the same thing. Spider was always there. His presence was as reliable as he was. Like everyone else, we wish him and Karen ’90 nothing but the best. They know they’ll be missed.
Thank to Dwayne Rush ’87—that’s him to Spider’s left—for sharing this photo.
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