Penn State is more than Joe Paterno, but Joe Paterno is so much Penn State.
Where to start? I suppose going chronologically is the easiest way.
My dad was a Penn State fan. He never went to college there (he went to Davidson College), but followed the team and I remember getting glasses at Hoss's that had the Penn State schedule on them in the mid-80's. The 1986 season was special. My dad and I would listen on the radio around the house or driving around. The had a close game against Maryland (17-15), but went undefeated through the regular season.
They were ranked #2 in the country. Miami was ranked #1 in the country. (I can hear Bob Costas in the game's introduction...) Since no major bowl could match up two independent teams due to their conference ties, the Fiesta Bowl (a "lesser" bowl) ended up swooping in. Instead of New Year's, they moved the game to the next day, January 2nd in primetime with a true #1 vs #2. The game drew the largest television audience in the history of college football.
Miami came in with all the bravado, wearing camouflage. Penn State was the boring team with the black shoes. We taped the game, so I almost tell you play-by-play of the first half (every time I stayed home sick from school for the next however many years, I put in the tape). Penn State uncharacteristically tried to drop back and pass and got sacked. On 4th and really long, they punted. Penn State played a 3-deep zone and came up and hit the receivers and Miami couldn't sustain drives. This continued for most of the first half.
Since I was only in 4th grade, my dad made me go to bed at halftime. But, I woke up the next day and found out Penn State won, 14-10! When I went back and watched the game, it was amazing how Penn State held on for the win against Heisman trophy winner Vinnie Testaverde. 7 turnovers by the Hurricanes, including one on the goalline in the final minute, will do it. It was Paterno's 2nd national championship in five years. I was hooked!
I remember my 5th grade teacher's name was Mrs. Henderson and she had a button on her coat that said something like "Penn State mom." There was a player on the football team named Marques Henderson. I was certain that this was her son (regardless of me knowing the fairly obvious fact about his skin color and hometown). Also, the starting quarterback at Penn State that year, Matt Knizner, was from MY high school. He now sells insurance for State Farm in our hometown of Greensburg.
Blair Thomas was stellar, but the rest of Penn State was so-so into the end of the 80's, including their first sub-.500 record in 1988. Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993 and then had a season for the ages in 1994 (my senior year of high school) with a high-flying offense and suffocating defense. They ran the table, including beating up Oregon in the Rose Bowl, but ended up the year ranked 2nd since voters though Nebraska was better. It all came down to a couple of garbage touchdowns Indiana scored in the 4th quarter to make a 35-29 finish seem like a close game with Penn State in early November.
I went off to college, but not to Penn State. I didn't want to start at such a big school. But, my path took me through Elizabethtown College and then Penn State through a cooperative engineering program. Reunited with my buddies from high school in Happy Valley, things were great. Also, I happened to meet Beth there, too.
Joe Paterno passed me once driving in his Volvo station wagon over to the football offices when I was by the tennis courts. I never had a chance to meet him in person. Beth had a chance to pass by him when she and her teammates would go on their morning runs. I joined her a few times in hopes of an JoePa encounter, but it never happened....I mean I joined her for some runs to get to know her better.
I got my degree from Penn State and it's such an amazing place. It won't be the same without JoePa. But, it's a better place because of him. Thoughts and prayers go out to the Paterno family. I hope that time helps heal the wounds of how things ended with the University and fences can be mended.
I attempted to honor the legacy of Coach Paterno and all the virtuous qualities he stood for today by dressing like him. A few kids got it. Others probably just looked at my rolled up pants and white socks and it further cemented in their minds how un-hip and not cool I am. Oh well.
Someone suggested of making it an annual thing to honor Coach Paterno. I think I like that idea.
WE ARE......PENN STATE!