Hi all. Aaron here and back with a post in between blowing my nose and taking meds. Being sick stinks.
Before I start, I would like to say that I am in no way a Penn State fan (even though just about everyone in my family is) and I have always been indifferent to the aurora surrounding Joe Paterno. This is an outsider's look looking in, but be that as it may, I've had a little time recently to reflect on the passing of the Penn State icon, the legend, JoePa, Joe Paterno.
First a little back story, I was raised in a Penn State family. My dad and grandfather were season ticket holders and I've had my fair share of Penn State home games to attend. In the early years (before I really knew what football was all about), I saw Penn State games as an event that I would sweat in the sun or freeze in below 30 degree weather. Big deal... big gathering of rabid people to see some game and oh, there's a band. Then as time progressed I became a big football fan and much to my parents dismay, a Notre Dame, followed by, and still, a Michigan fan. I came to know of the players, the schools and when one talks college football, Joe Paterno.
I've seen the record setting wins, him stroll the sidelines, barking at assistant coaches, the fans dressed like him and the interviews of him where he said "Our next opponent is a tough team" (even though the opposing team of the week was like a 2-5 team with wins only against cupcakes). Big deal, a guy is winning, he's traditional, blah, blah, blah.
However, in between my junior and senior years of college, my knowledge and appreciation for Joe Paterno grew. On an assignment with a reporter for my newsroom internship, I got to see JoePa up close and personal and even shook the man's hand. He was at a media event in Hershey, Pennsylvania and having never seen him up close in person, I came to realize he's a normal guy who truly cared for people and not just the wins and losses of his football team. He took a moment to shake everyone's hand that approached him and especially took time to talk to the youngsters that flocked to see the legend in person. What a cool guy I thought to myself.
Fast forward to the near past and present... Everyone who knows college football has seen him, knew who he was and the way he conducted business on and off the field. Then came the scandal. Now I'm not going to get into the grit and grime surrounding what happened and who was right and who was wrong, but this was the changing moment in the whole scenario, in my opinion. You know the story: accusations, discussion, dismissal, etc.
And two weeks after this story broke, he's diagnosed with lung cancer. Would have this story come out regardless if he still was the coach of the Nittany Lions? Who knows, but things didn't look good for the coach.
He was in and out of the news and from what I understand in and out of the hospital while another guy took the reigns of "his" team. I'm not saying JoePa resented that at all, but if it were me in the same position, I would be heartbroken.
Now, we know the fact that it was an aggressive form of cancer and that was the ultimate cause of his death. However, and I know this has been said by a few in the media and friends, but I think the man ultimately died of a broken heart. Everything he has lived for for the past 60+ years was gone and instead fighting his battles on the gridiron, he was in for the fight of his life. But when you life has been football, the Penn State community and the like, and after being dragged through the media coals like a low-class citizen, I imagine it got hard to take. And maybe that's a pessimistic way to view things, but having never been in for the fight of my life, I can only imagine what that must be like (perhaps a topic for another post at another time).
Regardless of my like of Michigan and sometimes hatred of Penn State (I never said the fans were nice to the opposition) my heart goes out to the Penn State community and I have been amazed by the pulling together of the Penn State campuses and college football in general. And the fact of the matter is, Penn State may and probably will never be the same. The show will go on and we all knew the day would come when JoePa and his rolled up pants wouldn't be on the sideline, but it is a shame it happened like the way it did. It's saddening and a loss for a football program, Penn State, Pennsylvania, the Big 10, the NCAA, but most of all, humanity.
It's not everyday you see someone pour their heart and soul into something as much as JoePa did. He was more than a coach. He was a second parent, a teacher, a leader, an icon, a legend and to those who knew him personally or not, a friend. Seeing him when he was down and out, you could still feel that he would be the type of guy that would give the shirt off his back for the student body, the university or anyone off the street. Penn State was more than football for him. He made sure his players as well as the rest of the student body got a good education and graduated. The first thing he said when the media and students came to his door in the heat of the scandal was "Go home, study and do well." He stood for tradition and values and didn't get caught in the whirlwind of today's society. That's an incredible feat in today's world. There are not many people like that.
There's no easy way to say it and it's still hard to believe that the fall of Paterno happened like it did, but perhaps the sports world should take a step back and be put on hold for a moment to remember the way that Joe Paterno changed the world of sports and the tradition and the way the games and matches compare to life.
My thoughts and prayers go to Penn State and the Paterno family and friends. Today, we all are...