Thursday, November 04, 2004


Bill Lyon has a heart-breaking column on Joe Paterno. Coach Paterno, now in his 55th season at Penn State, is the most admirable living figure in American sports.

A month shy of 78, his Lions program has fallen into disrepair, and the chorus of those who want him to step down grows weekly. It is terrible and gut-wrenching to watch.

I interviewed Paterno once. I went through Penn State's athletic department, and some secretary scheduled an appointment for the two of us to talk over the phone. Having grown up not far from Penn State, I was--there's no graceful way to put it--incredibly excited.

On the day we were scheduled to talk, my phone rang exactly at the appointed hour--he was prompt to the minute. I picked up the phone and said, "Hello." And he said, in that famous high voice of his, "Hi, Jonathan? This Joe Paterno. . . . I'm the coach of the football team at Penn State. . . . How are you?"

We talked for a long while; the conversation was as easy as talking with my grandfather. Real humility--not the fake kind politicians wear for us--is so rare. Paterno may have been the humblest man I've ever spoken with. And not just humble but deeply smart and wise, too.

It's a terrible thing to see a great man struggle. I'm praying Coach Paterno is given whatever grace he needs.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It saddens me as well. Unfortunately, he did not go out on top when he had the opportunity and was already well past the average retirement age.

In the changing world of college football and the realingment of conferences, he has not been able to keep up. What worked for Joe Paterno 20 years ago does not work in that environment today. Combine that with being on the skids so long now that their recruiting ability has dropped to the bottom of the ladder from one in which the country's top players used to line up to be admitted to the program.

It's time for Joe to retire. He's left a great legacy at Penn State and even though that legacy will be somewhat tarnished after years of mediocre to bad teams being fielded after enjoying decades of dominance, his overall record will speak for itself and he will always be remembered as a football genius and a class act. He'll be retiring soon one way or another - the powers that be at a division 1 school the size of Penn State will not endure seasons like these much longer.