On Sunday January 22, at 9:25 AM, the college sports world lost a true hero and legend. Joseph Vincent “Joe” Paterno, former head football couch of the Penn State Nittany Lions passed away due to complications for lung cancer treatment. He was surrounded by his friends, family, and many students from Penn State University. Students have been keeping vigil around the bronze statue outside of Beaver Stadium leaving flowers, cards, candles, scarves, and simple gestures that say, “Thank You Joe!”
Joe was born on December 21, 1926. Like many other men from that time he grew up during the depression. He learned the value of hard work from a young age growing up in Brooklyn, New York, and working in Dodger Stadium. When his country called him, served in the United States Army towards the end of World War II. He attended Brown University and played football. His parents wanted him to be a lawyer, but he decided to follow his coach to Penn State University, and became their assistant football coach. In 1962 he married Suzanne Pohland, they later had five children that all graduated from Penn State University.
In 1966 he became the head couch of Penn State University. He led the team to three undefeated seasons between 1968-1973. In 1982 and 1986 he lead the Nittany Lions to be national champions. In 46 seasons, he led his team to 37 bowl appearances with 24 wins. In October 2011, Paterno set a record of his own when Penn State defeated Illinois. This victory marked his 409th career win, making him the leader in career wins for Division I coaches.
Over the years Joe Paterno has more than just coached and taught football. He taught life, and had a positive impact on everyone he came in contact with. He was happy at Penn State even turning down multiple pay raises to go and couch NFL teams. He said, “I stayed because this is where I felt this is where I would be happier, and I could do more good.”
He lived, breathed, and gave so much to Penn State University. When different departments where not doing well, he gave his own money so the University could succeed, and help students succeed. In many ways he gave himself, and much more to watch his players succeed. When players were struggling with different subjects, he invited them over for his wives famous cooking, and tutoring sessions to give them a leg up. In the words of the fraternity close to my heart he helped build Better Men For A Better World.
On September 23, 2000, Penn State was playing Ohio State. Freshman defensive back Adam Taliaferro had an experience that what would change his life forever. While tackling a Ohio State player he had his spine crushed. As he laid there on the field he was paralyzed, and began to panick. When he opened his eyes the first eyes he saw where the eyes of Joe Paterno in this thick rimmed glasses. He remembers in a thick high-pitched voice of a man staring over him saying, “You’re gonna get through this, Kid. You’re gonna be OK.” Instantly Talieferro believed him.
He was paralyzed from the neck down and was brought to Philadelphia. Doctors gave him a 3% chance of ever walking. Paterno never gave hope and flew in to visit him every week with many players and coaches. One night a miracle happen, Taliaferro moved a toe. His Father over joyed called Paterno, in exciment Joe said as the phone was held to Talieferro’s ear, “You’re gonna prove ’em all wrong, Kid!” Taleferro began a miraculous road to recovery moving a new part of his body every time Paterno came to visit. Five months later Paterno walked in and said, “What’s new, Kid?” Taliaferro swung his legs over the bed, stood and extended his hand to shake.
“I’ll never forget his eyes,” Taliaferro said. “They were already huge behind those Coke-bottle glasses, but they got even bigger.” Paterno gave him a 10-second hug and then said, “Kid, ya make me proud.”
As we prepare to say our final good-byes to the Coach that was humble enough the live in same house, get the same pay grade, and drive the same car, and simply wanted to be called Joe. Not Coach, Couch Peterno, just simply…Joe. My whole life I’ve been raised to bleed HUSKER RED, and can say that I’m a proud Alumni of the University of Nebraska. Over the last few months my best friend has shown me the true colors of Joe, not just another Nebraska Rival in the B1G Ten Conference. He is an inspiring person that challenges everyone to have a positive impact on everyone around you. In my own personal way all I can say is….Thank-You Joe, Thank-You for in your own little way, you inspire me to have a better positive impact on everyone that I come in contact with.