Monday, December 17, 2012

Meeting Joe Paterno

Because this site is not in any way connected officially to the Pennsylvania State University, I am still able to say the name of he who should not be mentioned.

Figment of our imaginations?

There.  I said it.  Believe it or not, the man did exist.  He did great things at Penn State.  He even reported a possible child abuse suspect to his administrators.  And after a 60 year career that set an NCAA record, the man--and the record--no longer exist.  And while the man himself is indeed dead, his legacy does exist, despite the University's overzealous intent to suggest otherwise.

Enter The Guy From Erie.  If you have a few minutes, please check out his blog and read about the recruiting trip he made to Penn State two years ago with his son.  He talks about meeting Joe Paterno--and he has a picture to PROVE IT.  Take that Trustees!  I knew the man existed!
There he was: this little, hunched-over Italian guy wearing a coat that looked two sizes too large, wandering through the middle of the field staring at some notes he was holding. At first, I felt bad because he looked like he was reading those notes like he needed directions to his office or something. I would find out later that Joe always carried his hand-written notes around with him to keep himself on task. He made his way over to us, introduced himself – like THAT was needed – and made a little joke about us bringing the cold weather with us from Erie. I soiled my pants right there.

Later on, we had dinner in the team dining room with the players and the coaches, and the evening ended with a trip on one of the blue buses to Beaver Stadium. The entire ride was narrated wonderfully by a former player, who stood on the steps by the driver:
“When you turn this corner, you’re going to look out of the window and see thousands of people tailgating in the fields around the stadium.”

“When you turn THIS corner, you’re going to see this 85 year-old alum who hasn’t missed a home game in 50 years…he came to see YOU play today.”

“When you turn THIS corner, the crowd is starting to swell…you’ll start hearing the sirens from the police escort in front of you.”

“When you turn THIS corner, you’re going to feel the bus start to shake from the fans that are running next to it and pounding on it.”

“And finally…you’ve arrived at Beaver Stadium, where 3,000 fans are waiting to see you get off the bus. The quarterback is the first one off, which is the symbol that on game day, it’s his team now. Joe exits the bus second, followed by the starting offensive team.”
How cool would that have been?  I have Erie Envy!  The Guy From Erie goes on . . .
If I took one single thing away from that weekend, it was this: When Joe Paterno stood up to speak, the room went quiet. Not “any” quiet…Catholic church quiet. Dead silence.

Respect. That’s just the way it was.

Joe thanked all of us for traveling to State College, made a few remarks, and said he was looking forward to seeing us later at his home for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres…he spoke so softly, but was as sharp as a tack. He finished with stating, “That was a pretty good speech…I usually get paid a buck for that. Of course, a buck used to be worth a lot more a few years ago.” Cute.

At that point – I will never forget this – Jay Paterno shouted out something about Bush being a moron. It was like the most inappropriate thing I ever saw in my life, and may ever see. I watched all of the assistant coaches nervously look at each other and roll their eyes as in…w-o-w. C’mon, Jay…REALLY? In fairness, Jay DID handle the aftermath of the Sandusky mess with dignity, so maybe his dad kicked his arse so hard that night that he learned his lesson.

Insider information: when you looked around the room, you could have been at Harvard. ALL of the coaches wore navy-blue blazers, striped ties, and shined shoes. Short haircuts, and no facial hair. The wives were decked out in silk dresses, lots of very nice jewelry, very high heels, and had professionally styled hair. It was quite a scene.

Okay, into the white van driven by our chaperon for the weekend: Mr. Mike McQueary. I am NOT kidding. But, we’re on our way to “Joe and Sue’s.”
Wow.  The part about Jay is kind of out of whack, but the whole experience plays out like a dream sequence.  And there's more facts--video and pictures-- in this blog than you will ever find in the Freeh Report!

And in case you are wondering, The Guy in Erie's son--Jordan Kerner--is on the Nittany Lion's roster as a DE Sophomore with Freshman eligibility last season.  From this, I conclude that his dad's impressions of Coach Joe were real.  And that is a better conclusion than you will find in the Freeh Fiasco.  Freeh didn't even bother to interview Joe Paterno, but what do I know?

I actually had the opportunity to meet and shake hands with Joe at a Hershey Medical Center fundraiser held at the Mt. Nittany Club at Beaver Stadium.  Alas, my wife didn't have her camera and this was in the days before cell phones took pictures as well as made calls.  Like The Guy From Erie, I sent Joe a Thank You letter, and he sent a handwritten reply on my original letter.  That reply now sits in a bank vault and a framed copy is displayed in my office.
I believe the murals/posters of Joe in the football building are gone now, like he never existed. What a shame.

I love Penn State, and I love Joe Paterno. His name will be cleared. Justice will run it’s course. He was a good man – not without flaws – but a good man.


Carolyn Todd said...

Glad to see that on Sunday at the Lady Lions basketball game Sue Paterno was given a standing ovation. She was there to introduce the Special Olympics exhibition team but still...since the debacle that's the first ovation I've seen for her. It had more meaning than love for their commitment to Special Olympics.

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