It was just a month ago that he'd celebrated his 85th birthday. One month earlier, Joe Paterno, for 46 years the head coach and public face of the Penn State football team, had been removed by the school's board of trustees in the wake of allegations of sexual abuse allegedly committed by former assistant Jerry Sandusky. A sad, sudden fall from grace for the man who had spent 16 seasons as an assistant before becoming the head man at Penn State in 1966. In all, after 62 seasons in Happy Valley, Paterno was sent away, scapegoated in the eyes of loyal students, fans, & former players.
Shortly after his ouster, Paterno was diagnosed with lung cancer and spent some time in the hospital. Today, Paterno lost his battle with cancer at 85, with his family at his bedside.
There are some, I think, who may have envisioned that the only way Paterno would ever stop coaching was if in fact he had passed on. There were others, if you believed media accounts in recent years, who wanted him gone because of a rare losing season, spoiled by all the years of success and the bowl games that went with it. 2 National championships in the pre-BCS era, when there could've been so many more. Paterno was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2007 in a class that included Boston College hero Doug Flutie, now an analyst for the NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus). Some of today's fans, meanwhile, are probably accustomed to seeing a trio of fans, one of whom was wearing a Paterno mask, replica glasses included, with the others dressed as generic players, getting camera time at virtually every Penn State home game, and even some road games. The man meant that much to the school and the community.
When Penn State takes the field in September to start the 2012 season, there won't be a Paterno on the sidelines at all for the first time in 63 years. Jay Paterno, who had been an offensive assistant under his father and interim coach Tom Bradley, resigned earlier this month. It will be a totally new era under Bill O'Brien, who could possibly be coming in with a Super Bowl ring of his own, coming over from the New England Patriots, who at this writing are going to their 5th Super Bowl in the Bill Belichick era after beating Baltimore earlier tonight.
In this writer's opinion, the sex abuse scandal has tainted Joe Paterno's legacy, but it isn't enough to completely stain the body of work accumulated over several years. In time, the dirty little secrets uncovered late last year may be totally forgotten or little more than a blemish on an otherwise sterling record.
Rest in peace, Joe.