When Joe Posnanski announced in March 2011 that he would be writing a book about Joe Paterno, it was when things were going relatively well at Penn State—even relative to the last 10 years of football, to say nothing of today—so the common theme to the reactions was more along the lines of "hey, that'll be cool" than anything else.
And then, well, November happened. And Posnanski—likely the most observant, thoughtful, incisive sportswriter living today—was there for it all.
The book Posnanski ended up writing, simply titled "Paterno," is done. It's hitting bookshelves in a week. And based on the excerpt in GQ, it's going to be the best insight yet as to how things went down in the Paterno household.
GQ.com posted some snippets of a larger excerpt—excerpts of an excerpt, if you will—on its website today, and they are jarring, to say the least. Here's one:
At Paterno's house the day after he is fired via late-night telephone call from the Penn State board of trustees:
On Thursday, Paterno met with his coaches at his house. He sobbed uncontrollably. This was his bad day. Later, one of his former captains, Brandon Short, stopped by the house. When Brandon asked, "How are you doing, Coach?" Paterno answered, "I'm okay," but the last syllable was shaky, muffled by crying, and then he broke down and said, "I don't know what I'm going to do with myself." Nobody knew how to handle such emotion. Joe had always seemed invulnerable. On Thursday, though, he cried continually.
"My name," he told Jay, "I have spent my whole life trying to make that name mean something. And now it's gone."
Will you buy Posnanski's book?
Now, it's worth noting that for as great as Posnanski is, he's just a guy who was there to write a book about Paterno. He's not an investigator. He's not a watchdog against the NCAA or Louis Freeh's commission. There aren't likely going to be any great truths uncovered by Posnanski that clear Paterno's name.
But even the vulnerability on display in that one brief excerpt is going to change the way people see Paterno going forward, because now we can see him as, well, a man.
The fight over Paterno's reputation has dealt in roles and absolutes up to this point. Paterno's family describes him in the most glowing terms, as families are wont to do, as it issues statement after statement in his defense. The Freeh Report, meanwhile, obviously does Paterno no favors, either.
But this is different. This is Paterno as, well, Joe. Not JoePa, but Joe. The college-football world knew what "Paterno" meant and all it stood for, and "JoePa" became the human side of it, but "JoePa" ended up becoming as much a construction as "Paterno" did.
But at the core of it all, Joe Paterno was a guy who loved his job, tried whatever he could do to save it and cared deeply about how he was perceived. That's what we see in these excerpts, and that's something that, well, explains a lot about him.