I remember when I first caught a glimpse of Joe Paterno running out onto the field with Penn State. My grandpa is from Pennsylvania and he pointed JoePa out to me. It was the early 90’s and I thought JoePa was already old then as I watched him sport his Coke-bottle glasses and old blue sweater. What was it about this old guy that kept him pacing the sidelines for over four decades? That’s the question that was answered for me as I watched him through the years.
I’ve watched JoePa have some great years and some pretty crappy years at Penn State. His teams were usually well-coached players with a lot of red hair and last names that were hard to pronounce. Linebacker U. became the mantra of Penn State during Paterno’s era. Actually… everything about Penn State happened during JoePa’s time there. One of my favorite memories of JoePa was a small blip in a Big Ten commercial where he made a plea at the end for recruits to “Come to Penn State!” For whatever reason, I thought it was funny.
JoePa was a legend at Penn State, no doubt about it but the Sandusky scandal at Penn State threatens to put a huge stain on his legacy. The greatest lesson that I’ve learned from JoePa in this scandal was that the best of men are still men at best. We all make our mistakes but it shakes the world a little harder when our heroes are the ones making them.
Was Joe Paterno wrong with how he handled the Sandusky allegations? Yes. Does it erase forty years of quality leadership, honor, and integrity? Absolutely not. He was idolized around Happy Valley, an icon in the eyes of millions in Nittany Lion nation, but he was also imperfect.
JoePa was just a man with great leadership, a lunch-pail work ethic, and plenty of his own faults. Will one terrible mistake be the mark of his legacy or will it be about the high school graduates that he helped shape into men of honor? Only time will tell.
How will you remember Joe Paterno?