Sweeny: Remembering Joe Paterno
By Sweeny Murti
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This is how I want to remember Joe Paterno:
I snapped this picture a few minutes before kickoff of the 1995 Rose Bowl while sitting in the first row of the end zone. JoePa was firing up the crowd that came to see what turned out to be the last undefeated team of his 46-year tenure as head coach.
I want to remember Paterno as the man whose players achieved “Success With Honor” and were true student-athletes. I want to remember him as a man who hoped his players would remember his lessons long after their days on the football field, and as a man who chose to put his name on the university’s library instead of the football stadium.
I want to remember Paterno as a man whose name stood for all that was good in the game. Every time the sports world spun off its axis, Penn State fans could always count on their little corner of it being the same as it was a generation earlier. The rest of the world was “Jersey Shore,” while Paterno’s Nittany Lions remained “Ozzie and Harriett.”
I want to remember Paterno for great football memories, like Gregg Garrity’s spectacular catch against Georgia in the 1983 Sugar Bowl (National Championship number one) and Pete Giftopoulos hauling in the last of five interceptions against Miami in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl (National Championship number two). I want to remember games I attended like the Orange Bowl victory over Florida State in 2005 and the win over Northwestern for victory number 400 in 2010.
I want to believe that the quote behind the Paterno statue outside Beaver Stadium is true: “They ask me what I’d like written about me when I’m gone. I hope they write I made Penn State a better place, not just that I was a good football coach.”
I want all this to be true, and I’m quite certain it is. Unfortunately the scandal that ripped apart several young boys’ lives, a football program, a university, and a community has been stapled to the front of Joe Paterno’s encyclopedia-thick legacy. The circumstances surrounding his firing make up the main part of the story today, but now is the time to evaluate a life, not just a part of that life.
What Joe Paterno knew and didn’t know, what he did and didn’t do, probably haunted his final days and nights. Hopefully, there was a part of him that knew there was also a great deal of positive influence in his years on this earth. The man with the Coke-bottle glasses and rolled up pants legs knew as well as anyone that nobody is perfect. Even if the Jerry Sandusky scandal never happened, I’m sure he would acknowledge that perfect he was not.
But I’m hoping that Joe Paterno is resting peacefully now, and that he knew how much good came from his life and career at Penn State. No one can erase the events of the last three months and how it affects our view of Paterno and his program. But the Paterno legacy is much more than this one dreadful episode. The rest of his career should stand for something too.
This is how I am choosing to remember Joe Paterno.
How will you remember Joe Paterno? Sound off below…