If you were to subtract the news regarding Jerry Sundusky and the events of the past two and a half months, the memory of Joe Paterno would be easier to put into words for many who view his legacy as tarnished by the scandal.
Let's pretend the Sandusky incidents never happened. Joe Paterno has passed away after finishing his 46th season as head coach at Penn State University. He dies after learning just weeks ago that he has had lung cancer, and that his health was deteriorating. That's hard for some to believe especially since some believe football kept Paterno alive, much like it did Paul "Bear" Bryant. Matt Millen, a former player of Paterno's made the statement that he "died of a broken heart," following his firing and to add Lou Holtz's comment that "he lost the will to live."
Getting back on topic, the scandal never happened and Paterno has passed. The football world mourns the loss of a legend who set the standard of college football in a central Pennsylvania town for over half a century.
Joe Paterno, a Brooklyn native, attended Brown, and gave up a chance at being a lawyer to take a low paying coaching job at Pennsylvania State University. A school not many knew about when he arrived. Going into the 1980's, Paterno had shaped the football program into what it is known as today. His biggest accomplishments coming in the 80's, with a Sugar Bowl victory in 1982 that won Penn State a national championship, and a strong defensive performance in the Fiesta Bowl in 1987 to beat Jimmy Johnson's Miami Hurricanes, in a game that many pinned as the good guy Nittany Lions, beating the bad boys of "The U."
Paterno coached 46 seasons and never once thought about leaving for a better coaching position in the National Football League. With the Nick Saban's and Urban Meyer's of college football who take several different head coaching jobs at different schools and professional clubs, Paterno was unique. Saying in 2011 that he had offers to coach in the NFL, but said he felt he could do a lot of good by staying in Happy Valley, and he did.
His humanitarianism is also a highlight of his over 60 years at Penn State. He not only was the face of a football program, but the face of the university. Every year, giving donations to the school, even in this new calendar year he made his annual donation after being fired. His donations have bettered the college and adds to his legacy at Penn State. When Joe Paterno spoke, people listened. Regardless of whether they liked him or not.
Over the years, he was a father figure, and in his later years became more of a "grandfather" figure to his players, and as a role model for old and new alumni and that kid in Pennsylvania who plays high school football, who always hoped to get a knock on the door or a phone call from Paterno, wanting them to come and play at Penn State. Just goes to show you that a coach can be the main point of an athlete wanting to come to that college to play.
The older he became, the more people became skeptical and cynical about his ability to coach. After two straight seasons of losing, he was asked to step down, but refused. While some outside of Happy Valley and the Penn State fanbase found this to be ignorant, many who admired him kept their faith. From that point in 2004 when he was asked to retire until his abrupt firing, Paterno's Nittany Lions had an 11-1 2005 season and beat Bobby Bowden's Florida State Seminoles in the Orange Bowl. Penn Sate was 67-23 in his final seven seasons, sending a statement that he still could coach, despite those who questioned him, and his players still believed in him.
Whether you love or hate what Penn State stands for, you can't deny that Joe Paterno has a long lasting legacy that can never be touched by any other coach in today's game. Even the most diehard Auburn fan could give "Bear" Bryant credit where it's due. Paterno,near the end of his career, had many questioning his ability to coach due to his age. While some might question what his contribution was due to him being the only coach who as of 2011 was still not wearing a headset and the constant pacing of the sideline, it can't take away from his legacy in the game.
Yes, the scandal and his lack of judgement when dealing with it has given those who hate Penn State a reason to criticize him. The firing many felt would take away any reason for him to live. Life works in a crazy way, but the worst fear Paterno had and everyone else had occurred, and in the worse way possible with the Sandusky scandal.
Happy Valley has been more sad than happy for almost three months. Paterno's death adds to the pain and hits the school has taken. The outpouring support for Paterno by those who remember him show the good side of a man who many demonized back in November. Remember Joe Pa for the good and not the bad, and what he did for that school and the game that is football.