Saturday, October 4, 2008

JoePa: From Boyhood Idol To... This

2008 "Blackened Gold" award winning story

As a youngster still in grade school, I can vividly remember opening my bundle of newspapers for my "Pittsburgh Press" paper route and before I counted my papers or even delivered a single house, I would sit down and read about Joe Paterno and his Nittany Lions. Back in those days, Joe Paterno was my idol. I would devour every article that I could read about Penn State. If there was, say, an upcoming game that week against Syracuse, the story would quote Joe as to how, "The Orange were a very difficult team and if we don't give them our best effort, we could be in for a long afternoon."

Yes, a young Joe Paterno had a way of making every opponent seem as if they could be a national title contender. It's a trait where, if you listen closely, you'll still hear it even to this day, every Tuesday at his weekly press conference...still saying basically the same thing. Only that was 1965 and this is 43 years later!



A young JoePa was my boyhood idol
As everybody knows, Paterno went on to become the only man to become a true contender with Florida State's Bobby Bowden for the all-time winningest coach record. His bowl records and legions of NFL-caliber players produced makes him unquestionably one of the greatest coaches in any sport ever. In fact, Paterno has been so great for so many years that they're already honoring him in "Happy Valley" as though he was already deceased!
When they put up a statue of you and you're not even dead...well that's big.
I'm going to these extremes in lavishing praise on Joe Paterno because his life's accomplishments deserve it. However, and this is a BIG however, somewhere along the way I feel it's now safe to opine that Joe "got a little too big for his britches" as they say.
Being a native born son of Western Pennsylvania and having resided in this state my entire life, I have seen my opinion of my boyhood hero change from having had the greatest level of respect to having little or no respect at all. How did this happen?
I won't attempt to give a historical litany as to the reasons why Paterno decided to end the Pitt-Penn State rivalry. But in doing so, he not only has deprived all of Pennsylvania let alone the entire nation from enjoying this storied rivalry, but in the process, I believe, has severely damaged his own legacy among the people who should be among his biggest supporters: That is, Pennsylvanians who aren't Penn State alums and who don't reside in or near State College, Pa.. or Altoona.
What makes the concluding of the Pitt-Penn State series all the more irritating is that the NCAA has added games in recent years and still Paterno continues to find every excuse under the sun for not playing the Panthers. Can you imagine telling a school the size of Pitt that you must insist on playing two games at home for every one played in Pittsburgh? Penn State apologists will use ridiculous arguments such as "Pitt doesn't fill Heinz Field" when they know full well that there was never a seat available for a Pitt-Penn State game. Heck, the scalpers made a fortune on this game each year whether or not Pitt or Penn State was having a big season. It never mattered. Also, how relevant is it for Penn State to play Youngstown State or Temple? Do their own fans really enjoy these games as much as everyone looked forward to the Thanksgiving weeked classic every year?
In playing a Big Ten schedule, Penn State doesn't have the benefit of a close geographical rival, unless of course if you consider Columbus close. But Paterno cares not that his once loyal fan base in Western Pennsylvania is being ignored so that he can face and yes, of course, conquer the mighty Temple Owls.
But don't let Paterno or anybody else fool you though, this is all about the money. Apparently, Penn State can make a lot more money playing a pushover in State College than by playing a nationally-telecast intense rivalry game against Pitt. Of course it's also about losses too. Do you think that Penn State has a better chance losing to Temple, Youngstown State or Pitt? All that I can say is, "Shame on you Joe Paterno for robbing our state of one of its' true treasures!" Hopefully your coffers are full and you pick up that valuable "W" against Youngstown State.
Paterno let everyone know just how far his ego had gotten out of hand last year when he was involved in a road rage incident in State College. Our intrepid photographers at "Pittsburgh's Black and Gold" were on the scene though, catching Paterno at the worst of his behavior.
Hey, hey, knock that off JoePa!
So now there's only one thing left to hope for, that our Governor, Ed Rendell, would declare that Paterno has robbed Pennsylvania's college football fans by refusing to resme this series and thus should be treated in a way that all crimals are treated...by being incarcerated, naturally!!!
Yes, your level of respect has fallen a rung or two or fifty from the days when I was just a boy, JoePa.. Now all that I can hope for is for the wheels of justice to, for once, turn more quickly and catch up with you. Yes, incarceration sounds mighty good for the man who would deprive Pennsylvanians of the Pitt-Penn State game!
Who wouldn't want to see this?