January 22nd was a sad day in America. A pitiful and depressing episode that confirms how a lawyer-controlled and weak-kneed society, ended with the tragic death of Joe Paterno. As sure as day turns into night, the actions taken last November by the Board of Trustees of Penn State University were responsible for the premature death of this great man.
I grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, next door to Paterno’s domain: Pennsylvania. My father graduated from Ohio State, and I was – and still am – a born-and-bred Buckeye fan. I clearly remember the emergence of Joe Pa at Penn State, which had not yet joined the Big Ten – that wouldn’t happen for another 25 years.
In that time we had the great Woody Hayes, but now we were butting heads with this scrawny- looking guy with goofy glasses who was somehow stealing a number of our recruits. Because he wasn’t in the Big Ten – and, of course, because Michigan was the center of everything evil in the world – I developed a mild liking for the guy. If the Buckeyes weren’t winning the national championship, then Penn State and Joe Pa seemed to be an acceptable alternative. It was certainly better than some others (like USC). Sure enough, it didn’t take him too long to produce undefeated seasons – reeling off three very quickly in 1968, 1969 and 1973 – but he had to wait until 1982 to win his first national championship.
Paterno went on to become a national icon. There have been many great college coaches with stellar, decades-long careers, but Joe Pa was beginning to set records. From the time he turned 70 – and then 80! – we all participated in the annual rite of speculation about whether he would or should retire.
Whenever I was asked about it, my answer was always the same: the Bear Bryant Syndrome. Joe knew very well that Bryant had passed away a little over a month after his retirement, and in fact had told sportscaster Brent Musburger that Bryant’s untimely death was one of the reasons he continued coaching. His team, school, and community – along with his wife of nearly 50 years – had become his life.
The Jerry Sandusky scandal shocked everyone; it always smacks your senses when someone is accused of such despicable acts. I read the transcript of the grand jury testimony with utter horror, and yet the fact that it engulfed the entire Penn State University made this sordid story even more appalling and disgraceful. Still, something seemed to be missing.