Joe Pa and Legacy

Sports — By on February 10, 2012 at 8:15 am

He won 409 games, but he didn’t do enough. He contributed more than $4 million dollars to Penn State, much of which went towards the founding of the Paterno Library, but he didn’t do enough. He spent over 45 years of his life as the head coach of Penn State, rebuffing repeated efforts by NFL teams to hire him away from State College. But he didn’t do enough.

That’s the legacy of Joe Paterno. For all the great things he did—and there were many—the rebuttal is simple. He didn’t do enough.

When news broke on November 5 that Jerry Sandusky was being arrested for what would eventually prove to be 40 counts related to sexual abuse, life changed for Joe.

Mike McQueary, a graduate assistant at the time, alerted Joe in 2002 that he had seen Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy in the Lasch football team facility showers.

Paterno reported the incident to his superior. Ultimately, though, nothing happened. Life went on at Penn State. Sandusky hung around, the football team continued as the dominant force in town, and Paterno was revered as always.

You probably know all this.

He was a simple man—or at least seemed to be from the outside looking in. The black shoes, the white socks, the rolled up khakis, the thick glasses, the blue Penn State jacket over top of the shirt and tie.

Was Joe Pa too simple? He was surely a bright guy, but maybe Paterno never adapted to the changing world around him. Living in the State College bubble may have stunted his vision of the world.

Maybe I’m the naïve one, but I think the Penn State coach may have been too old and from too different a time to fully grasp what Mike McQueary was telling him. Perhaps the weight of what McQueary claimed he saw didn’t register.

And certainly, if that is true, it’s a terrible excuse, and raises the question of whether or not Paterno should have continued to be in the position he’d held for so long in the first place.

Joe Paterno was a simple man in a simple town, living in anything but a simple world.

Now that he’s officially gone, we are left to continue to wrestle with that big word—legacy. What does it mean, exactly? What is Joe’s legacy? Is it that of a man who gave so much in time and effort and money? Or is it a man, who ultimately, many will label as a failure?

Paterno wasn’t just a coach of course. He was a husband, and a father, a grandfather, an uncle and a friend. And yet, to many, he was an icon and a living legend.

His legacy will be complex. History will remember the good, it will remember the bad, and it will remember the ugly—the atrociously, horrendously ugly.

It really all happened to fast. Too quickly to properly digest. After a slow, steady 85 years, Joe Paterno fell from grace, fell and broke bones, learned he had cancer, and quickly succumbed to the disease.

It’s a reminder that a fall can be quick and steep and more painful than we could ever imagine.

In a span of about 2 1/2 months, Joe Paterno lost his sterling reputation, lost the job he had held for 45 years, and ultimately, he lost his life.

What’s in a reputation? His has been sullied and distorted beyond recognition. Paterno was a beacon of light in October, often looked upon as everything (or at least much of) what was right in college sports. His Nittany Lions were overachieving, winning games behind a sturdy defense and a lethargic offense.

I was at Joe Paterno’s final game as head coach of his beloved Nittany Lions.

It would be his 409th win as he would become the winningest coach in division 1 college football history, surpassing Eddie Robinson.

Well, I was there for half of it anyway.

It was really a pretty miserable day, October 29, 2011.

The “waterproof” gear we had, put to the test by a wet snow and a declining temperature, coupled with a lethargic offense, sealed the deal.

My dad, my cousin and two of my uncles, who have made an annual weekend getaway to Happy Valley for the past 15 years, left Beaver Stadium for the warmth and comfort of our hotel room.

We continued to watch the game—half-heartedly—as we took turns defrosting in the hot shower.

The Lions picked things up in the second half as the defense played inspired ball, and a Matt McGloin led fourth quarter drive provided the go-ahead score.

Illinois’ field goal attempt to tie the game as time expired looked good.

The football banged off the goal post.

We had no idea we were witnessing Joe Paterno’s final game.

Joe finished his unparalleled tenure with two national championships, five undefeated seasons, a laundry list of “coach of the year” honors, and perhaps, most importantly, a legacy of philanthropy to the institution he loved and a difference made in countless lives, on and off the field.

Well, that was his legacy anyway. For many, the former white knight of State College has been sullied, tainted forever, stained with the disgust and incredulity at how this spokesman for all that was good and right about college sports could be so silent for nine years.

He did so much, but he didn’t quite do enough.




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