Rest in Peace, Joe.
When the Sandusky scandal broke, and Joe was summarily fired, we said aloud “this will kill him.” In fact it was cancer that killed him, but the speed with which the disease took him down was surprising. Joe was ageless, scrappy, tenacious, faithful, and probably would have coached another season from his hospital bed. It might have helped him beat the cancer, but the scandal may have been the stronger of the two demons.
We are a Nittany Lion family. My husband comes by it legitimately (PSU ’75). We used to have the song “Hail to the Lion” on our answering machine. As a young collegian, my husband met JoePa by accident. He was on campus to meet with the basketball coach because he would be playing for the Junior Varsity team (which no longer exists!). My husband was a little early and the coach a little late. Joe noticed him outside of his office and invited him to come in, have a seat and wait there. They had a cordial chat, most of which my husband cannot recall because here he was in awe to be sitting down in Joe’s office face-to-face! But the hospitality offered has always given him a tender spot for Joe, and is a favorite memory of his years on the main campus.
We have a “stand-up Joe” cardboard cutout that we place near our TV during Penn State games for good luck. When Penn State used to play West Virginia, it was a tough crowd in the family room. My father-in-law, mother-in-law, and brother-in-law all attended WVU. The brothers had a lot invested in winning their respective games, but regardless of outcome they knew to leave the vanquished to his own despair lest the family ties become forever frayed.
Early in our marriage we had the noble intent of not owning a television. We were married in July and football season starts in August. Most Penn State games were not shown on the West Coast where we lived at the time. So, after one very costly long distance phone bill where my husband got the play-by-play for the entire game from his brother, we decided it wasn’t such a bad thing to own a TV after all.
One year, to chase away the tedium of our 12-hour trek from LA to Portland to visit family, we decided to take turns reading Joe’s autobiography Paterno: By the Book to each other. Only recently married, I was still learning to be a sports fan. But the legend of JoePa was strong in the family, so I said I would give it a shot. I couldn’t put the book down. When it got dark, I read with a flashlight. Several times both of us became choked up as we read how he influenced the lives of his players, his dedication to the Catholic church, commitment to family and to the principle of just being a decent human being.
The book is not a book for sports fans per se. It is more about perseverance and overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles. These qualities were deeply imbedded in Joe’s psyche because of his study of and love for Virgil’s Aeneid. Aeneas was the mortal son of the goddess Aphrodite. The saga sees him vanquishing his foes in many battles, often with the help of his mother Aphrodite and credits him with founding the city of Rome. Upon his death, Aphrodite asked Jupiter to make him immortal. He lived on as the god Indiges.
When Joe would win a game that looked destined to go the other way, my husband would say “Aeneas showed up again.”
Joe Paterno’s positive impact on the young men who played for him, and all of those associated with The University, will live on. His legacy need not be overshadowed by the final few months of his life, where the headlines often made it seem as if HE were the accused abuser of children, and not his former associate, Jerry Sandusky. His contribution to this world as a dignified, principled and honorable human being was an inspiration to all.
The chant may remain “We are Penn State.” But the fact remains that “HE WAS Penn State.”
A few reviews from Amazon.com on Paterno: By the Book.
“By the Book” chronicles the life of Joe Paterno. It begins with a description of his childhood and prep school years in Brooklyn, takes us through his football career at Brown University, and how he became the head coach at Penn State. The book is rich with descriptions of Penn State players and seasons up through the 1988 season. But, this book is much more than a football story. It’s a view into Joe Pa’s heart and soul. It is a portrayal of his values, his motivations, his vision and dreams. These, not just for his football team, but for his family, his university, and his profession. Much more than a fun read for Penn State fans, it is a valuable resource for aspiring coaches and players searching to find the essence of their relationship to their sport. Mark E. Kubiske
Published before the 1989 season, Paterno: By the Book provides a great deal of insight into the mind of one of the greatest college football coaches ever. The book is more memorable for Paterno’s musings on life, recruiting, winning, losing and growing up with a strong mother rather than for his specific thoughts on the numerous games he has coached. Assuming the book is in fact an accurate portrayal of Paterno, it is clear that he will never voluntarily step down from Penn State, no matter how bad things get. He is determined and driven to succeed. He will not quit and he will not go quietly. From many of his remarks in the book about Penn State, it is clear he feels the same way a number of his supporters do, Penn State owes Joe loyalty for his many years of service. A solid sports book about sports…and life. Jeff W Traylor