I tried keeping my eyes dry watching yesterday’s memorial service but found it was impossible. We had a death in the family this week, the Penn State Family. It’s been a tough week. It shouldn’t have ended this way for Joe Paterno but no one has the power to change events, even the legendary coach. What we did see yesterday though was everything which is good about Penn State. I sat there thinking that, perhaps, this might change the attitudes of many people whose sole opinion of us is the controversy surrounding a former coach.
I really enjoyed Jimmy Cefalo’s touching remembrance. Maybe it was because he represented my era or perhaps because he reminded us how Joe took the sons of small town Pennsylvania, sons of coal miners (my father, class of ’42, was the son of a coal miner) and molded them into men. The Paterno legacy, as was said, is not 409 victories, 2 national championships, 5 undefeated seasons, 50 consecutive non losing seasons, or a 106,000 seat stadium. His legacy was the thousand former lettermen sitting on the floor of the Bryce Jordan Center. It was how he touched the lives of millions of people, of hundreds of thousands of alumni. He lives on in all of us.
There’s an old saying that no one really dies until the last person who knew and remembers them breathes their last. I like to believe in that and in such a case Joe Paterno will live forever.
I was disappointed any mention of the scandal engulfing the University and which led to Joe’s dismissal was even mentioned. His life transcended one moral lapse. I’d have rather listened to all the remembrances and stories shared about his life, his passions and his ideals and they were abundant. Unfortunately Nike Chairman Phil Knight couldn’t resist and reminded all of the painful final chapter of Joe’s life:
“There is a villain in this tragedy, and it lies in that investigation, not in Joe Paterno’s response,” Knight boomed.
“I do not follow conventional wisdom. Joe Paterno was my hero for 12 of the last 12 years. My question is, who was the real trustee of this university?”
This was not the time to excoriate Tom Corbett, there will more appropriate times for that. Knight’s question however, was poignant in that it reminded us that Joe Paterno was really the one person, “the Trustee,” who really ran Penn State and that was the problem and the source of his downfall. We could have done without that reminder. That was the culture which nurtured Jerry Sandusky and resulted in tragedy, not for Joe Paterno, but for young boys raped inside the Lasch Football Building.
This week wasn’t, and shouldn’t, have been about the Sandusky scandal, it was about Joe Paterno and his real legacy. Other than Knight it was a beautiful day beginning with the Glee Club singing the alma mater and ending with a lone Blue Band trumpeter playing “Hail to the Lion” (not those songs cited erroneously in The Morning Call).
Today the Lion is at rest, hail to the Lion.