I hate writing obituaries and memoriam posts. Unless you truly know a person, they’re just usually so forced and awkward. Although, with sports it’s a little different, because we are inspired by athletes and coaches on a regular basis, so we feel like we know these people. That’s what makes this whole Joe Paterno thing incredibly strange.
I used to wonder why Paterno was such a big deal. He only won two national championships and the last one was in 1986. I viewed him the same way that I did Bobby Knight – “What have you done for me lately?” But I always lacked one thing that would have given me actual perception – a favorite college football team. Growing up, I had no allegiance to any college football teams, so I never actually understood how incredible it is for one guy to stay with the same team for a career. And now, as a fan of the UCF Knights, I openly beg for George O’Leary to be fired.
That’s why this quote that I came across in reading the media’s reaction to JoePa’s death stuck out a little.
“Why leave?” Paterno explained in a 1995 interview with the Tampa Tribune. “It’s got everything I want: small town, a college town. I can walk home after games. I’ve been accepted as a faculty member, not treated as a dumb jock. I can do things that suit me intellectually; I’m a little bit of an egghead.”
I admire that. As we’ve seen far too often, players and coaches want bright lights and big cities. JoePa was apparently happy with the small town. It’s refreshing, to say the least. That’s why I can understand the incredible outpouring of emotions and respect the students and alumni have been showing for JoePa since news of his death broke yesterday. They see the 46 years of head coaching and the man who charged onto the field for 409 victories.
However, that’s mostly limited to his friends, fans and former players, because the rest of us see him for who he became over the last three months of his life. I don’t quite know how I feel about Paterno anymore. I used to not care who he was. He was a coach, cool. Then I thought he was great because he stuck around and he was this cool old dude who crapped himself during a game.
But now I just want answers. I think we all want answers, because none of us wants our heroes to be exposed as anything but perfect. That’s why I understand the love for JoePa. I don’t agree with it, but I understand it. And we’ll probably never get those answers now that he’s gone. Most of us won’t settle for “I never heard of that” as an excuse for turning a blind eye to his friend and defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky allegedly raping children in Penn State facilities. Aware or not, that’s the man’s legacy. Trust me, I don’t want it to be his legacy, but I don’t think anything will ever happen to change it now that he’s gone.
And it’s a shame, because he’s still a hero to so many people, who will spend the rest of their lives defending him, despite still wanting the questions answered. After the jump, I have some reactions from the media and JoePa’s friends, as well as pictures from the Penn State student body’s tribute.
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