Sunday, January 22, 2012

Joe Paterno Forever: 1926-2012

The Penn State football coach's legacy and impact will live on as vibrantly as any, ever. 

It has been suggested there is a great scorekeeper in the sky.

Your deeds are tallied, pro and con, throughout your life, and at the end of the day, when your time on earth is done, you stand before the great scorekeeper and that's how you're ultimately judged.

If that's the case, if they're really keeping score, then maybe they have a Hall of Fame up there, too.

In which case they just added a new inductee. First ballot.

Who's had a more direct, positive and profound influence on more people than Joe Paterno? Exceptionally few.

The Sandusky scandal? There is one overriding thought in that whole horrific deal, with regard to Paterno: Whatever he did or didn't do, from the vantage point he occupied, with the information he had, surely he did what he thought was best and right.

Why is that the overriding thought? Because that's how Paterno handled everything else he ever did, no matter what, in any situation, as has been documented tens of thousands of times, for decades. For ... ever.

Which is why the notion that he suddenly completely compromised everything he ever stood for seems so absurd. And why those who have so enthusiastically embraced that premise - that JoePa knowingly allowed such horrible things to happen, that he grossly shirked his responsibility - simply can't be right and must be wrong. Joe Paterno's life - the most profound of ordinary lives, as he wasn't a research physician or world leader, but a coach - is the irrefutable proof otherwise.

Paterno always either did the right thing, or did what certainly could have been deemed the right thing when he did it, or was appropriate within his value system, a value system that never wavered and was most highly respected, by all, for decades.

Until November, his integrity was unimpeachable. Straight shooter, didn't lie, walked the walk, preached the right things - education, virtue, honesty. Over and over, endlessly. Year after year, decade after decade. He was at Penn State for 62 years.

Academics and generosity were Paterno buzzwords every bit as much as anything associated with football. Just this season, Penn State football was honored, again, as the No. 1 program for academics and graduation rates. And after he was fired, in December, the Paternos, Joe and Sue, made their annual $100,000 donation to Penn State, adding to their tally of more than $4 million.

An endless line of former players and associates attest to these virtues, and a string of biographers of JoePa's life have said so. Since, forever.

His football program was not an open book - Paterno surely didn't believe in constant full access for the media - but he lived a life simply and transparently wonderful. He walked home from work, he had one wife and lots of kids and lots more grandkids, was a good neighbor, his door was always open to former players and friends. On and on.

He surely made mistakes, too. He could sometimes seem pompous or irascible (though he more frequently seemed humble and understanding). He could be very hard on some players, supplying extra doses of "tough love." He could be very stubborn. Not all of his former players revere him, for sure, though the extraordinary outpouring of love and reverence today might make it seem like they do.

But he always was considered among those with the highest integrity. And it was earned - earned as much as anyone has ever earned anything.

Earned through his impact, his positive influence, primarily on his football players, the thousands of them, but also on many, many others.

One former Penn State player from the 1990s, Brandon Noble, was asked today what lessons learned from Paterno does he now apply in his life.

"All of them,'' he replied. "We don't have enough time to talk about it.''

JoePa Forever.


  1. You have accurately described the Joe Paterno I have known since we were schoolmates at Brooklyn Prep; the one with the most transpar-
    ently innocent heart I have ever known and who without question always did what he thought was right, no matter the cost to himself. Thanks and God bless you.

    William Peter Blatty
    Brooklyn Prep, '46