Some Final Thoughts from a Pennsylvania Boy
It's amazing how fast life can change. What's happened in State College is an amazing reminder of how unstable even the most bedrock things in life really are.
That might sound ridiculous when we're talking about a mere football coach. But keep in mind that Bo coached for twenty years. Paterno's been a part of that program for almost fifty.
Watching all of this play out has been nothing short of a nightmare, even from someone like myself who is not a fan but has always respected and admired the football program if not directly supported it. These stories have not showed up as random links in college football tabs on my desktop, but rather on the front page of the paper that lies in my driveway every morning. What has seemed like an untouchable truth has crumbled around us in the blink of an eye.
Reading the SI articles today, it was amazing to see how they provided such a stark contrast of how Sandusky, Paterno, and ultimately Penn State football, was perceived for what seemed like eternity. For me, I grew up in the reality that grass was green, the sky is blue, and Joe Paterno is the respected football coach. I remember a wrestling coach who openly emulated him in every way. I remember entire towns cleaning up because Paterno may or may not be coming to visit a potential recruit. I was raised in a Penn State family. I have an uncle who is probably right now clearing signed footballs from his mantle. I have an aunt who used to babysit for the Paternos in the very house I watched on SportsCenter last night-- I've driven past it myself, and been amazed at how humble the little home is for a man of such legendary stature. And while I was never forced to be a PSU fan, I was always aware of how much the program was about values, and what those values meant to my dad and uncle and grandfather. Honesty. Integrity. Hard work. These things meant everything to my role models, and maybe that's why Penn State meant so much to them as well.
This morning I was in the car when Greenberg literally had the news about JoePa dropped in his lap and he read it aloud. We in Pennsylvania all knew this day would one day come, but like this?
Learning that the ethical standards that went hand in hand with Joe Paterno were not only inaccurate, but has also cost him his immortal job status? Well, it's like waking up one day and finding that the United States is secretly run by a Communist dictator. It just doesn't make sense, and certainly doesn't seem real.
Penn State football will not suspend its games for the season. That's unfair to Nebraska and certainly unfair to the current players. Penn State football will certainly not fold like the Post suggested in its editorial. It will move on, and it will one day be free of this grip of shame and unspeakable horror. Not even this will shut down the program.
But what it will cost Penn State is its tradition.
When I think of Penn State football, it's always had a timeless feel. Regardless of whatever composite materials or Revolution designs the helmet evolved into, it would still remain plain. Boring. Penn State.
What I never could have imagined is that in the decade to come, the school might knowingly sink that tradition, just to move away from all this. In 2020 you might very well see Penn State in some ridiculous ProCombat jersey with leaping mountain lions across the shoulders. You might see gray trim on the numbers. You might see the athletic logo, known affectionately in these parts as the 'Beaver head,' finally on both sides of the helmet. And that helmet might be gray, or blue, or both. And not because Paterno is no longer there to refuse the idea... but rather to distance the program from what is now and will forever be remembered as a marred past.
There was once talk in the early 2000's that not simply the stadium would be renamed in Paterno's honor, but rather the entire campus or town itself. Paterno Park. Paternoville. He was as timeless and as frozen in goodwill as Santa Claus. Until now.
Penn State tradition was forever altered this week. The men that will soon be put to task to pick up the pieces of this Hiroshima-esque landscape might very well choose to bury that tradition once and for all. And for many, dreams, memories and entire ways of life will die with it.
There's a friend of mine down the street, an alum, who along with his dad, my neighbor, cherish their season tickets like family heirlooms. That will not change. They will continue to go, continue to tailgate and even continue to fly the flag outside their homes. But this week, I have thought about him much, and specifically about what he will do on Saturday morning when he packs up the car and prepares to take the family up to State College. He's got a son, about the same age as mine, who is always wearing blue and white on a Saturday morning. And how on earth does he put his son in a Penn State jersey this week? And if he doesn't, how does he tell his son that he can't wear his Moye jersey? How do you tell him to stop loving JoePa, or explain why he won't be there next year?
Yes, I know, small fries compared to the lives of those poor kids whose trust was betrayed by that monster. But life as we all know it has changed this week in Pennsylvania, and the ripple effects of this mess will continue to affect normal everyday people in my life and beyond for years to come. It's just a really sad, improbable day... and we can only hope that lessons are learned and that lives can be changed for the better with the serving of justice.
I know I'm not the only PA native here on the blog, and I'm curious to hear Steve in PA's take, and others. But it's a strange, surreal blur of a bad dream in our community and thought it might be worth sharing and describing for the rest of you, if you're so inclined. This is my last mention of the subject.
Prayers for the victims, and Go Blue.