Joe Paterno: Penn State Legend Died of a Broken Heart

Darrell HorwitzSenior Writer IIJanuary 23, 2012

UNIVERSITY PARK, PA - NOVEMBER 08: Penn State University head football coach Joe Paterno leaves the team's football building on November 8, 2011 in University Park, Pennsylvania. Amid allegations that former assistant Jerry Sandusky was involved with child sex abuse, Paterno's weekly news conference was canceled about an hour before it was scheduled to occur. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Legendary former Penn State coach Joe Paterno died Sunday morning at 9:25 a.m. from "metastatic small cell carcinoma of the lung" according to a report in the Orlando Sentinel, but I think he died of a broken heart. That belief was echoed by a former player of his, Matt Millen, that same morning on ESPN radio.

I thought it interesting we both had that thought about him passing so soon after the scandal broke in November of 2011.

He was 85 years old and still the head coach at Penn State until the child sex scandal involving Jerry Sandusky became public knowledge.

That cost him his job and his legacy.

While previously known for his career at Penn State by fans of the game, he was now known worldwide by those who never heard of him before. It was for darker reasons that both tarnished his career and broke his heart.

All of the records and accolades—409 career wins—the most in college football history, now took a back seat to a scandal that rocked the nation and left him a defeated man.

He married his wife Susan in 1962, but his real spouse was Penn State football. He spent 62 years there, 46 of them as the head coach.

Anybody who understands anything about the game knows the time and dedication coaches give to their craft. They often fall asleep on a couch in their office after hours of studying film trying to devise a game plan to defeat the opposition.

His passion was the reason why an 85-year-old man would still be working 20 years after the normal retirement age.

You think he would have wanted to enjoy life with his wife, kids and grandchildren. He certainly didn't need the money.

What he did need was the fix that only football gave him.

Without it, he must have felt empty.

Joe Paterno and Penn State were synonymous with each other. He was an institution there, and now he was told he was no longer wanted.

He might have been able to deal with that if not for the way his career ended.

A lifetime of being known for all things positive came crashing down on him that fateful November day.

Just as in a life-long marriage when someone often dies soon after their partner passes, Paterno succumbed shortly after his true love was taken away.

In life you sometimes wish you can have a do-over. I'm sure if Paterno had a chance to change the course of events that happened many years earlier, he would have.

Then he could be remembered for the all good he did, rather than an incident that made him infamous.


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