It’s a cool Saturday afternoon at Beaver Stadium
By Steve Kish
Everyone is cheering on Nittany Lions. You can barely hear yourself or your buddies screaming at you from the noise. The Nittany Lions score touchdown after touchdown, and the defense is suffocating. It’s another win for the little man on the sideline, the one that if he stood behind his punter, you couldn’t see him. The man little in stature but mighty in word. This is JoePa, the face of Penn State. The man that has won more football games in FBS then anyone else in history. This is what you saw, what you loved or hated, a man leading a team to 46 years of greatness. This all changed on November 15th. Even the most devout to the church of JoePa questioned what they heard, read and saw on television.
Paterno was Penn State. He has coached the football team to half their all time wins and only a third of their all time losses. He led Penn State to 37 of their 45 bowl appearances, winning 24. The man has a statue outside the stadium. Paterno was the law at Penn State, even if they didn’t want to admit it. He brought in the money, and he had a very large say in all things Penn State. They even say he picked the university presidents. Talk about power.
Growing up, I hated Penn State. I hated when they joined the Big Ten. I didn’t want that little man messing things up for my Buckeyes. Penn State was scary in the early 90s when I got big into college football. They were mean, big, vastly talented and had THAT coach. I didn’t know much about coaches back than other then who Ohio State’s, Michigan’s, Notre Dame’s and Penn State’s coaches were. You couldn’t be a college football fan in the midwest without knowing about JoePa. He was a legend even back then. You just hoped he would retire year after year being a fan of any other Big Ten school. Oddly enough, you couldn’t hate JoePa as he reminded you of your grandpa; no one can hate a grandpa. Llyod Carr, you could hate, Steve Spurrier you could hate in his hay day with the Florida Gators. These were coaches you could hate, well easily hate and now Brady Hoke has taken that spot for Ohio State Fans, and Spurrier still ticks off plenty of SEC fans.
JoePa just didn’t bring that feeling out of you. How things have changed.
Paterno’s legacy has come crashing down with report after report of him doing little to stop Jerry Sandusky. Paterno had knowledge. Vast knowledge. That is now clear, and he did nothing. What we have learned is that he did what was needed to save his name, his legacy, and protect the Penn State football program. That meant covering things up, or doing just enough when was needed to prevent the NCAA possibly looking in and this blowing up years ago. Ethically, he should have gone to the police. He didn’t. Paterno did the minimum he was required to do so that it wouldn’t fall on him. He had an out. Letting the higher ups take the fall seemed to be his plan. After all, he was JoePa. He WAS Penn State. Paterno let his legacy get in the way of doing what was right: protecting kids.
The most powerful man at Penn State, don’t kid yourself if you say JoePa wasn’t, let this abuse go on. He even informed Sandusky that people knew. Sure Paterno says he wishes he had done more. It’s easy to say you wish you had done this or that after the fact. The fact remains Paterno could have fired Sandusky, stopped all of this back in 1998, but he didn’t. He couldn’t risked the bad exposure, the Penn State football brand being questioned. How would that be to recruit? Ask Bill O’Brien that. He now sits in the living rooms of recruits trying to assure parents Penn State is a safe place, a place where their young son can go and become a man, get a degree and not worry anymore about this happening. Those most affected, other than the abused, are the ones taking over after this scandal.
Paterno built Penn State football, and in the end his greed for his legacy tore down Penn State football. We want to remember Paterno as the all time winningest coach, that guy in the big glasses on the shoulders of his players, remember him as JoePa. He took that from us with his deception, and willingness to do the minimal to protect his legacy and the Penn State football brand. As they decide what to do with that statue out front of Beaver Stadium we need to decide how to remember JoePa. Success with Honor is what Paterno preached. Success without Honor may forever now be his Legacy.