Just as quickly as Joe Paterno left the locker room after his last game at Penn State, Happy Valley suddenly became not so happy.
Now that he’s left this earth, there’s no doubt it will become downright despondent.
Living in Upstate New York, you never really heard about Penn State unless they were playing Syracuse or Buffalo. But if you were sitting there watching the game, you knew you could sit there and say, “Here is a molder of young minds; one of the last of a dying breed…a man who played and coached the game of football because he loved the game, not because it offered the most money.”
In this age where coaches are exchanged like baseball cards, it’s hard to find one who stays with a team any more than ten years. This man stuck around with the team for 61 years. He even turned down offers from almost every successful pro football team in the NFL without batting an eye. Such loyalty in this day and age is incredibly rare.
Whether you loved him or loathed him, you cannot say that Paterno did not have integrity. Even in the wake of scandal, the man carried himself with dignity. No scathing news report, nor tabloid, nor vulture-like reporters would bring this man down. Like his quarterbacking days at Brown, he could not and would not be brought down by such things. If you can’t even bring down the man by running a Sherman Tank of a man at him (twice, no less), how do you expect reporters, armed with only cameras and notepads, to even slow him down?
He would speak of things that, up until that point, were only spoken in whispers. He was a firm advocate of the playoff system before the BCS was even an idea in some person’s brain. He spoke of an emphasis on academics over athletics and promoted it even further with his “Grand Experiment,” which made Penn State one of the best in the Big Ten academically. He even advocated the discontinuation of face masks. Well, maybe that wasn’t such a hot idea, but his reasoning behind it was sound: he thought it would reduce concussions, a problem now becoming more and more prominent. Who knows? It may have worked; Paterno was nothing if not a smart, well-educated person.
Above all that, Joe Paterno was a man whose accomplishments on and off the field most likely will not be equaled, at least in my time and quite possibly some time after. There is no man, Democrat, Republican or indifferent, who can’t say that he wasn't a great American and a good father, coach and friend right up to the end. One would hope that that’s what he’s remembered for above all else.
Words can only say so much about a man who was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame even before his career was over, but his accomplishments will ring out through the ages as, quite possibly, one of the best coaches ever to put on the whistle.
Rest in peace, JoePa. Words can’t even begin to describe how great a coach, friend and man you were, but one thing is for sure…Happy Valley just won’t be as happy without you.