We’ll Miss You Joe…

As journalist, I was trained in college to work with facts and leave my own personal feelings out when writing about sports, aside from writing columns of course. There isn’t room for opinion when writing news stories and we are taught to gather information and present it with as little personal bias as possible. I suppose right now I’m fortunate that I don’t cover Penn State football for a newspaper, because I now realize that it’s difficult for me to draw a line between my head and my heart – what I know Joe should have done and my overall respect and admiration for him.

A few days ago, I was 99 percent sure that Paterno would be fired or would resign in the very near future. I understood all the facts that had been presented in this case and I felt like I had come to terms with the future of Joe Pa. I read the grand jury report, constantly checked for updates regarding the case and delved into the situation with a previous blog analysis. I knew that Joe messed up. I knew that he was as good as gone. But still, I was surprisingly unprepared to hear about his firing. It was like knowing a tidal wave was coming days before it reached land and still being surprised when I saw water rushing up the streets.

To me and many other Penn State alumni and supporters, Joe Paterno was like the sky above us and the air we breathed. No matter what happened, he was always there. By the time I was born, Joe had already been the head coach at Penn State for 21 years.  He had already won two national championships and a Big Ten title, with two more Big Ten titles coming in 2005 and 2008. In my life time, Joe Paterno coached in 303 games, amassing 210 wins. I certainly don’t remember all of them, but I remember some of the important ones. I was at the 2005 Orange Bowl when Joe earned his 21st bowl win, topping his longtime rival Bobby Bowden. I was in the crowd at Beaver stadium when Joe’s Nittany Lions rallied from an 18-point deficit to beat Ohio State, earning him his 324th win and passing Bear Bryant for the record of most wins for a coach in major college football history. I remember standing amongst 100,000-plus people on November 6, 2010 in State College when Paterno recorded his 400th career victory with a 35–21 victory over Northwestern. Facing a 21–0 deficit, the Lions scored 35 unanswered points, tying Paterno’s largest comeback victory as a coach. I was also present when Paterno earned win 400, a number that had never been reached in major college football history.But more importantly, I remember how I felt every Saturday in State College watching Joe lead his team out of the tunnel. I got chills each and every time. Going to Penn State games was, is and always will be one of my favorite activities in my life. Unfortunately, it may never feel the same without ol’ Joe.

Joe also impacted me off the football field. I studied every week at the Paterno library, to which Joe had donated millions of dollars to improve. The fact that it is called the “Paterno library” tells a lot about the man. Penn State is the only university in the country to have a football stadium named after a school president and a library named after the football coach. Paterno showed everyone how much he valued the educational part of college, ahead of what happened on his football field. And despite his success (Joe earned more than 10 different awards in major college football, amassed 409 wins and 24 bowl wins, and coached more than 350 players who went on to play in the NFL) he couldn’t have been more humble. He would rarely take credit for wins, rather giving the esteem to his players and fellow coaches. He never argued over his contracts, despite making tremendously less than most other major college football coaches. And when his salary became public knowledge in 2006, Paterno said that “I got all the money I need,” even though he probably could have been making a lot more.

Back when I was in undergrad at Penn State, I used to walk by his house on occasion. Before someone told me it was his house, I would have NEVER guessed that the most significant icon in college football lived there. It’s small and modest at the end of a one-way street in a quiet neighborhood just off campus. Joe didn’t want anything more than that. He was content living in the quaint house with his wife Sue, and though will have some rough days ahead, I imagine he’ll be happy to keep on living in that house in a town that has always loved him.

Although we’ll never see Paterno on the sidelines at Beaver stadium again, his bronze statue will remain outside of it with the inscription “Joseph Vincent Paterno: Educator, coach and humanitarian.” What he has done for me, Penn State and college athletics will go on unmatched in history. And when I hear “Penn State,” I’ll always think of black Nike shoes, rolled up khaki pants and coke bottle glasses.

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About Pete Dombrosky
Pete is a graduate of Penn State University and a life-long Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates fan. He covered men's hockey, golf, tennis, swimming and the enterprise beat as a reporter at the Daily Collegian, Penn State's award-winning, independent student-operated paper. He currently serves as the Assistant Managing Editor for Thrillist Media Group (www.thrillist.com).

One Response to We’ll Miss You Joe…

  1. Cayla says:

    bravo. great post

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