An Obituary of Joe Paterno by Smarter People

“We’re trying to win football games, don’t misunderstand that,” said Paterno last week. “But I don’t want it to ruin our lives if we lose. I don’t want us ever to become the kind of place where an 8-2 season is a tragedy. Look at that day outside. It’s clear, it’s beautiful, the leaves are turning, the land is pretty and it’s quiet. If losing a game made me miserable, I couldn’t enjoy such a day.”

 Joe Paterno, in an interview to SI in 1967

I never met Joe Paterno. I have never even particularly cared for Penn State. But when the news came across Twitter that Joe Pa had died, I felt a strange mixture of sadness and confusion. Sadness, because the man was not only a living legend but arguably the best football coach of all time, and college football will never be the same without him. Confusion, (mostly because of the past few months) of how he will be remembered.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your opinion) Paterno will more than likely have the stigma of scandal, of Jerry Sandusky and of the black shroud that now covers the entire Nittany Lion program.

I would continue writing a morbidly sobering obituary of a man that I never met, but instead I think I’ll leave to many more professional, talented people.

“The reason why I feel peace about Joe’s passing, is because all that Joe was is what I represent today and will pass on to my children.”

Lavar Arrington, Washington Post

“If we’re so able to vividly remember the worst a man did, can’t we also remember the best?”

Rick Riely, ESPN.com (In an amazing story about former player Adam Talieferro’s recovery from a horrid spinal injury)

“There are 107,282 seats in the house that JoePa built, and he had 100 times that many admirers. His legacy was beautifully uncomplicated, his approval rating very near unanimous. He was not just the winningest coach in major-college football history; he was a winner with a documented adherence to rules and an embrace of academia. He was the heroic figure with no overt flaw.

A great many Americans are unmoved by Paterno’s passing, having soured on the man for his insufficient response at a time when children were in danger. But a great many of us also have failed when our character was called upon. Like JoePa, we wish we would have done more, and done the right thing more often. Like JoePa, we will take those regrets with us to the grave.

When asked years ago what his epitaph should be, Paterno said, “I hope they write I made Penn State a better place, not just that I was a good football coach.” We will write that because it’s true. But we cannot leave it at that.

Joe Paterno’s life cannot be viewed in black and white anymore. It ends with a sad shroud of gray placed over the prism of our perspective.”

Pat Forde, Yahoo.com

Yet Paterno somehow righted the program, as he often did. Success transformed his ordinariness into a fable of its own. In 1982, he won his first national championship, and four years later, he won another. His ability to adjust to changing epochs and new generations of college students was remarkable; in every decade from the 1960s to the 2000s, he had at least two 11-win seasons. Did he stay too long? Of course he did. Was he often controlling and authoritarian and bitterly afraid of this day coming too soon, the way it had for Bear Bryant shortly after his retirement? Of course he was. This hubris, this encroaching fear, especially in his octogenarian years, was his tragic flaw; it was evident in that heartbreaking final interview with Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post, when a man schooled in the classics pleaded ignorance about men and rape.

The ending will simplify the vision for some, but if there’s one thing we should take away from the life of Joseph Vincent Paterno, it’s that his reality was never as facile as it will become now that he is gone. He may have grown into something larger than life, but he was also the first football coach who truly symbolized complexity and nuance, and in that way, he will always be more man than myth.

Michael Weinreb, Grantland.com

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