Posts tagged ‘Joe Paterno’
We asked our intern, Erika Spicer, to attend Joe Posnanski’s talk Friday at the HUB. We’ve read and written so much over the past 10 months about Paterno and his legacy, and we were interested in Erika’s perspective—both as an undergraduate, and in particular as a journalism major. Here’s what she came away with.
As I sat in my plastic chair in Alumni Hall waiting for Paterno author Joe Posnanski to speak, I mulled over the fact I probably wasn’t going to learn anything new.
I am so tired of listening to people rehash the events surrounding Joe Paterno, I thought to myself, feeling a twinge of guilt as I sat among some Paterno supporters. With the release of Paterno in the midst of a new era for Penn State football, I knew where a lot of this discussion was headed Friday afternoon.
As I predicted, questions like, “How do you think Joe Paterno would feel about the NCAA sanctions?” popped up when moderator Malcolm Moran, director of the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism, which sponsored the talk, gave audience members the opportunity to ask Posnanski questions. Not that I could blame them –– after all, Posnanski not only spent (more…)
- Joe Posnanski had an impossible task. As he wrote before the book was published this week, he confronted an unprecedented challenge: writing a biography of someone who was suddenly engulfed in a national scandal—one that upended his reputation—and then died a few months later. I can’t imagine a worse scenario for a journalist.
- Joe Paterno was a complex, complicated guy—far more so than most of what’s been written about him would suggest. That includes my own work in two stints as a beat writer covering the team, and that’s been true since well before the Sandusky scandal broke. Paterno was tough to get close to.
Posnanski doesn’t shy away from either point. I admire that. (I should also note here that I’ve known Posnanski for years; we’ve shared press boxes and meals and a few jokes together. He’s a good guy.)
But if this isn’t the book Posnanski signed up to write—with the Paterno family’s explicit cooperation—in 2011, it’s also not the definitive account of Paterno’s life. It’s too soon for that book.
There aren’t any blockbuster revelations, and the choicest new details, about Paterno sobbing the day after he was dismissed, about how his family had to force him to read the grand jury presentment, about the “I Hate Jerry Sandusky Memo,” made their way into the media quickly through excerpts.
And, honestly, most of what was in the book, I already knew.
But keep in mind that I covered my first Penn State football game, for The Daily Collegian, in 1988, and that I’ve followed Penn State football and Paterno not only because I love college football and I’m a Penn State alum, but because my job required it. I’ve read every book written about Joe Paterno, even Joe Paterno: The Coach from Byzantium by his brother, George.
Some Penn State fans, I’m sure, will feel the same. This book covers a lot of familiar territory—far more pages are devoted to Paterno’s rise and his glory years than to the Sandusky scandal and aftermath, or even to the down years of the 2000s, which have been less well chronicled and deserve (I could say, need) a more full accounting. Posnanski is a lyrical, poetic writer, and he tells those familiar tales beautifully. He adds a few choice details. I expected nothing less.
The chapter about Rip Engle was terrific; I know a lot less about Engle than I do Paterno, so I found that particularly interesting. (Awesome tidbit: Engle didn’t like to say that a player “cheated” a step or two to one side in anticipation of a play, even though that’s totally legal, so he had players “fudge” instead.) I appreciated the occasional one-liners from Paterno family members, as well, including this gem from Sue, noting that their son David’s engineering aptitude certainly didn’t come from his father: “Joe couldn’t fix a sandwich.”
Posnanski also does an excellent job showing the toll that the pursuit of excellence can take on family life; particularly when Paterno is designing his new defense in the late 1960s, Sue and the kids are on their own.
It does, however, take a long time to get to the new stuff, and those parts of the book aren’t as richly reported. There’s a chapter on Paterno’s relationship with Jerry Sandusky that clearly spells out the differences between the two men and the fact that they weren’t friends; I think this will come as less of a revelation to anyone who’s followed the program closely, but that chapter is a good read. Scott Paterno, son and lawyer, and Guido D’Elia, friend and marketing genius, wrestle with the presentment and its aftermath; anyone who cares about Joe Paterno will be sad as they read those scenes.
Posnanski eventually recounts a conversation between himself and Paterno in which the coach asks for the writer’s take. Posnanski doesn’t let him off the hook; he tells Paterno he should have done more because “you are Joe Paterno. Right or wrong, people expect more from you.” Elsewhere, he writes, “It is certain that no one, Paterno included, was aware enough, courageous enough, or decent enough to stop a man who would be found guilty of forty-five counts of child molestation.”
Most reviews, however, have found Posnanski’s portrayal, as Dwight Garner of the New York Times called it, “breezy and largely sympathetic.” Rich Hofmann of the Philadelphia Daily News calls it neither a “prosecutor’s brief” nor a “full-throated defense.” Beat writer Mark Wogenrich ’90 of The Morning Call in Allentown provides a great framework for understanding the book using an anecdote about Paterno’s recruitment of John Cappelletti. Guy Cipriano, the new beat writer for the Centre Daily Times, writes that Posnanski “whiffs” on this book because he didn’t make the most of his exclusive access to Paterno, and that’s a take well worth reading, too.
There aren’t many new insights here, but Posnanski does raise some fascinating ideas. At the end of a chapter in which he recounts both Joe’s courtship of Sue and then-Oakland Raiders coach Al Davis’ courtship of Joe (he wanted Paterno to be the offensive coordinator), Posnanski writes:
“She had fallen in love with State College the first day she arrived on campus as a student, and though Joe did not know it yet, the rest of his life would be guided by her vision. Joe was cocky, ambitious, principled, smart, consumed by football, and determined to win; those qualities and others would make him a great football coach. But he would become a legend by seeing the world through Sue’s eyes.”
Now that’s something I’d like to know more about. You can learn a lot about someone by understanding their relationships—particularly the choice of a life partner—and breaking down the Paterno marriage would have been insightful. But that thread is never picked up. And it’s not the only one.
In a few places, Posnanski zeroed in on the contradiction that I’ve never been able to understand: How was it that a man who spent his life preaching the value of education, preparing his football players to live a productive life away from the football field, wasn’t able to walk away himself and enjoy the other facets of his own life?
In recounting the program’s struggles in the early 2000s and Paterno’s refusal to consider retirement, Posnanski writes, “So why go on? Why keep coaching? There is no shortage of theories, but no one can know the depth of another man’s heart.”
I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to know a least a little more. Perhaps in another decade or so, enough time will have passed that more reporting can be done. For now, this book is as close as we’ll get.
Lori Shontz, senior editor
Usually, when it’s time to let readers know that the next issue of The Penn Stater is on its way to mailboxes, we try to walk a fine line — to give you a taste of the magazine’s content without giving too much away.
But in the case of our March/April issue, the face on the cover won’t surprise you one bit.
On Jan. 22, when Joe Paterno passed away, we knew immediately what direction this issue had to take. Putting together the magazine was about honoring a man who touched the lives of every Penn Stater. For one story, alumni and students recall the day they met the man himself. In one of three essays, Jay Paterno ’91 reflects on his father’s legacy. And throughout the issue, you’ll find plenty of photos — some of which you’ve probably never seen before.
Your magazine should arrive within the next few days. Let us know when you receive your copy and, as always, let us know what you think.
Mary Murphy, associate editor
Father Matthew Laffey of the Penn State Catholic Center set the tone—and provided a broad outline of Joe Paterno’s life—in his opening prayer. “Thank you for this man. … How fortunate this corner of your kingdom has been.”
The details came slowly over the next two hours Thursday afternoon, as speakers at A Memorial for Joe painted pictures of the man who helped to build—and became largely synonymous with—Penn State.
We met the competitive Joe. “The bigger the game, the quieter he was in practice,” said Todd Blackledge, quarterback of the 1982 national championship team. “But the gleam in his eyes told the story.”
The literary Joe, who never called Susan Welch, dean of the College of the Liberal Arts, anything other than “Dean,” who donated millions of dollars to the library, and who clearly passed that love of literature on to his son. Here’s who Jay Paterno quoted in his closing eulogy: Sophocles, William Blatty, U2, John Adams, John Ruskin, Tennessee Williams, Martin Luther King Jr., and Arthur Ashe.
The funny Joe, so quick with a one-liner, who told Jimmy Cefalo’s mother on a recruiting visit, “Your pasta is better than Mrs. Cappelletti’s.” (more…)
So quiet. So sad. So respectful.
Usually when College Avenue is packed with thousands of people who are standing in the middle of the street with cell phones, it’s a disaster waiting to happen. Not today.
Usually when people have to wait outside, in the cold, for well over an hour, tempers fray. Not today.
Like so many other Penn State fans, alumni, students, and employees, we the magazine staff went outside to pay our respects as Joe Paterno’s funeral procession wound through campus. We stood at the closest spot to our office, at Fraser Street and College Avenue, and waited so long that our fingers and toes froze. None of us would have missed it.
The procession arrived a little before 5. First the hearse, carrying Joe’s coffin. Then the blue bus … with Sue Paterno sitting in the first seat, Joe’s seat for 46 years, one that this year’s team left empty after their coach was fired. His 17 grandchildren waved at the crowd. A few other cars and buses followed.
It was totally silent.
I was following along on Twitter—it’s worth checking out the hashtag #guidejoehome for real-time observations and emotions—so I knew that when the procession reached us, it would get quiet. It had everywhere else. But that didn’t dull the impact … wow.
Lori Shontz, senior editor
Three bouts into the wrestling team’s dual meet with Iowa on Sunday afternoon, the Nittany Lions had lost all three bouts, one by pin, and were down 12-0. Surely some of the 6,796 fans—the largest crowd in Rec Hall since its reconfiguration—were having flashbacks to last year’s Iowa dual, in which Penn State lost the first three matches—one by pin—and never recovered from a 12-0 deficit.
So was coach Cael Sanderson worried?
“I know Cunningham was,” Sanderson said, using assistant coach Casey Cunningham as a comic foil, as he often does. “I was doin’ all right.”
Spoken like someone who had seven ranked wrestlers—including two guys at No. 1 and two guys at No. 2—coming up to the mat. But it was the guy ranked No. 12—197-pounder Morgan McIntosh, a true freshman—who clinched a 22-12 victory over the Hawkeyes.
McIntosh, facing Iowa junior Grant Gambrall, who finished third at NCAAs last season, got a takedown with 17 seconds remaining in the one-minute “sudden victory” overtime period for a 5-3 victory that gave Penn State insurmountable 19-12 lead with one bout to go.
The takedown also gave Sanderson his first dual-meet victory—as an Iowa State wrestler, Iowa State coach, or Penn State coach—over the Hawkeyes. And it gave McIntosh a loud, long standing ovation. “Coolest feeling I ever felt,” he said. “I’m not going to forget that for a long time.” (more…)
I’m not going to lie—it felt a little odd. Just over two months after I stood on the Old Main lawn along with thousands of students holding candles to remember the victims of child sexual abuse, there I was again Sunday night. Same place, literally, at the foot of the Old Main steps. Same songs by the Blue Band. Many of the same students, I’m sure.
But this vigil was in honor of Joe Paterno.
There were tears again, yes—football players Mike Wallace and Matt McGloin, in particular, choked up as they remembered their coach, who died Sunday morning of metastatic lung cancer. But there was some laughter, too. And a similar feeling of togetherness as the students linked arms and swayed as they sang the alma mater. I wasn’t surprised this time—as I was at the previous vigil—that all of the students know all of the words. That just wasn’t the case back in my day.
What stood out the most to me were the words of Stefen Wisniewski, a former All-America offensive lineman (and Academic All-America) from one of those storied Penn State families; his father and uncle played for Paterno, too. Now a lineman for the Oakland Raiders, Wisniewski was the vigil’s last speaker. This is what he said:
A lot has been talked about today about Joe Paterno’s legacy, and unfortunately, a lot has been said about how the recent events that have taken place over the last few months might affect that legacy. A lot of supporters of Joe Paterno say that he really didn’t do anything wrong and that it shouldn’t have any effect on his legacy. Others say that all the good he has done and his time at Penn State should overshadow what he may have done wrong.
In my opinion, what happened in the recent events and the firing of Joe Paterno is that this figure who we looked up to as this super-human figure, this super legend, that he was kind of reduced to the level of a human being, like the rest of us. And that’s why we hated to see it. But the reality is, Joe Paterno was a human being like the rest of us. He did make wrong decisions. He did maybe fail to make right decisions. Like the rest of us do. Like the rest of us do, he’s done things in his life that require forgiveness, and he’s done things in his life that require redemption.
But when I think back over Joe Paterno’s legacy, the events that have happened over the last three months won’t even cross my mind. When I think back on Joe Paterno’s legacy, I’m gonna remember sitting at his kitchen table as he recruited me five years ago, eating cookies made by SuePa. And I remember leaving that meeting both excited about the prospect of playing at Penn State for Joe Paterno and simultaneously terrified at what he might do to me if I didn’t go there, the same place where my father and uncle both played.
I’m also going to remember …. Whew, so many memories. I’m also going to remember when Coach, at age 82, got down in an offensive lineman stance and showed me how to snap a football. Because I was terrible at it. I’m better now.
I also remember, as a Penn State student, walking through Paterno Library, a library that exists only because Joe Paterno loved the university enough to donate millions of dollars for it to be created. Because he was committed, not just to Penn State football, but to Penn State as a university. He was committed to education. He loved his place, and all of us who are part of Penn State are better as a result.
I also remember as a player, two years ago, playing against Northwestern, being down three touchdowns, coming back to win JoePa’s 400th victory. Watching players carry him off and seeing that No. 400 up on the screen. A number that is never gonna be touched by any coach ever again because no one has the commitment that Joe Paterno does.
I also remember that Joe Paterno taught us about success with honor and that it wasn’t enough for him just to win football games. He wanted to do it the right way. He wanted to do it with players who were going to graduate and players who would go on to be leaders in their communities and great husbands, great fathers. And he really did care as much about his players’ character as he did about what kind of football players they were going to be. Because he knew that our football careers were very short, but that we’re going to be husbands and fathers and leaders the rest of our lives.
And finally, when I think of Joe Paterno, I’ll remember that after every game he ever coached, whether it be a great loss or a great victory, that Joe Paterno knelt down with his players after the game and prayed the Our Father with us. We love you, Joe. And it’s my prayer that that father God you prayed to after each and every game will grant you rest and let his eternal light shine upon you.
Lori Shontz, senior editor