Normal me: For those of you expecting the normal kind of post you see on this blog, sorry we’re going down a different avenue this time.
Nerdy me: Definitely one with a more serious tone.
Apathetic me: It’ll be difficult for James to type this up. Partly because his hands are frozen after tumbling through the snow with a friend, but mainly because it’s such a hard topic to find the right words for.
Artistic me: Nevertheless, here’s our attempt. We’ll leave this one in the capable hands of Sports Fanatic.
Sports Fanatic me: Thanks. Most of you who read this blog can probably already tell what this post will be about. You’ve seen the news and heard the reports. None of this will be new to you. However, for those unfamiliar with some of the history or even current story, here’s an attempt to convey just what today has held for the Penn State community.
This morning, 22 January 2012, long time Penn State football coach Joseph Vincent Paterno, fondly known by Penn Staters as JoePa, passed away due to complications from the lung cancer he had been diagnosed with only two months earlier.
Blog and news sites alike have focused for the last two months on the scandal that rocked the Penn State football program and cost JoePa his career, but that’s not what we’re going to discuss here. JoePa was certainly in the know about what happened, but he was not the perpetrator, nor is he a man who deserves to shoulder undue blame. The focus here will be on his life and the honourable man he was.
Joseph Vincent Paterno was born on 21 December 1926 in Brooklyn. After graduating from Brown University in 1950 following a brief stint in the Army, JoePa was hired as an assistant coach (to his father’s chagrin – he had hoped he would become a lawyer) at the Pennsylvania State University by his own former coach, Rip Engle. Upon Coach Engle’s retirement in 1965, JoePa was named the new head coach of the Penn State football program, a post he would occupy for over half of his life.
While serving as assistant coach, JoePa met Susan Pohland, an English literature student – a major with which JoePa was quite familiar with already, having been in the same program at Brown. The story, as James understands it, is that the two met at the university library. After getting to know one another, JoePa offered Susan a book and asked her to read a specific passage. After finishing the reading, the two compared their thoughts and takes on the text. They found that their interpretations lined up very similarly. At that point, JoePa, knowing that he and Susan were two of a kind, began courting her. The two married upon her graduation in 1962 and remained together for the rest of JoePa’s life.
As the head coach of Penn State’s football team, JoePa initiated his “grand experiment,” merging an interest in athletic success with an intense desire to see his players succeed academically and personally. Football was transitory, and JoePa understood that fact. During his tenure, he ensured that the program required high academic performance from all players and urged them to not just be good players but good men. Working as a coach, a mentor, and a father figure, he cultivated a hard working and dedicated ethic which would be the hallmark of his time with the University. At no time was this more apparent then in 1987 as Penn State’s good guy team defeated the “bad boy” Miami Hurricanes of Jimmy Johnson. Some hailed it as a triumph of “good over evil,” but I believe JoePa would have seriously downplayed that assessment.
National championships tended to elude Penn State during JoePa’s tenure, at times through no fault of his own. I reserve the right to complain about the BCS system and the arbitrary selection of national champions at any time, but I’ll simply leave it at this for now with a quote from JoePa himself: after President Nixon decided the Texas Longhorns would become the national champions because of an impressive comeback bowl win, JoePa quipped “I’d like to know, how could the president know so little about Watergate in 1973, and so much about college football in 1969?” This seemed an affront to a team which had gone undefeated all season long and held a tight but unquestioned lead all throughout their Orange Bowl performance as opposed to a team which squeaked out a comeback against a lower ranked opponent. It still registers as an affront and an insult to many Penn State fans forty-two years on. Nevertheless, JoePa earned two national titles with Penn State, appeared in 37 and won 24 bowl games, and compiled a total of 409 career wins, setting a Division I record which is likely to never be broken.
JoePa was more than a football coach, however. He was a philanthropist par excellence. JoePa donated millions in his own salary back to Penn State and other charitable organizations. In fact, the library at Penn State bears his name, and many other places bear his name or that of his wife. His continued devotion to the University and to the cause of education and the improvement of the individual was commendable, to say the least.
His career was not a fairy tale, though. It certainly had its ups and downs, no time more-so than in the 21st century. Player foibles and personal scraps clashed amid calls for his resignation. Through it all, however, JoePa stayed true to himself and his “grand experiment,” resulting in Penn State’s football program continually being ranked number one in academic success among top 25 teams. That was how JoePa measured his success. Not by the wins on the field but by the men he got through school and into the real world with good heads on their shoulders.
As with all figures of reverence, however, he was not completely above reproach. Particularly in the recent unfortunate series of events, he did make mistakes. These mistakes, whatever degree of severity you attribute to them, cost him his career in the end, cutting a legend back to a man.
But, then, doesn’t the fact that he’s human make him all that much more impressive? No, JoePa was not perfect, but then, who is other than God Almighty? JoePa was a man, like any other, with his flaws and failings, but at the same time, he set a standard for personal integrity that more professionals should look toward and aspire to reach. Few people have been truer to their convictions and beliefs than JoePa, and few people have achieved positions of such reverence with such admirable goals. Nobody is perfect, but if we were all as strong and true as JoePa, maybe this world would be a better place.
In closing, I’d like to just put forward a quote of his which is a personal favorite of mine, and I know Nerdy would approve of this selection. Back in eighth grade, James selected this quote as the motto for his main ship, the USS Avenger. The quote has stayed with him and his ship and has shaped much of what he has aspired to.
“Believe deep down in your heart that you’re destined to do great things.” – Joseph Vincent Paterno
God bless you, JoePa. You meant more to Penn State than you could ever know.
Normal me: Thanks for the info, Sports Fanatic. Sorry we don’t have the proper tribute ready just yet.
Artistic me: Yeah, it’ll be on its way. James is working on something special right now.
Apathetic me: Hopefully it doesn’t take too much time.
Nerdy me: It shouldn’t. But even so, as long as it’s done, that’s the important thing.
Normal me: Exactly. Stay tuned. You’ll see what we’re talking about soon. Until then, stay strong fellow Penn Staters, and please offer your thoughts and prayers to the Paterno family in this difficult time. Take care, all, and God bless.