Friday, November 11, 2011

Joe Jo'Pa Paterno

Joe Jo'Pa Paterno

Of the few dozen or so other local residents who have had direct contact with Coach Paterno my contact goes back to 1953, the year I graduated Pottstown High School. I entered Penn State College (it was not a University yet ) in September of '53 and tried out for freshman football as a walk-on making the squad. Joe was young looking - seven plus years my senior, me 18, he, 25/26 years old- the quarterback coach under head coach, Rip Engle. 

The quite young looking Paterno was a force on the practice field and players sensed the close relationship between Rip Engle and his trusted assistant. Paterno knew each and every player as if he recruited them all. Many times he even addressed lowly me, a lineman pulling guard, because the freshman ran plays of the opposing team against the first team at the beginning of the week which was part of the practice session Joe oversaw.

I last spoke to Joe Paterno in the early 1970's at a Boosters Club picnic in Reading, Pa. I have been an ardent Penn State fan all my life even though my personal football experience predated Jo'Pa's ascendence to head coach. His extremely long tenure as head coach seems to have allowed the creep of absolutism into the power thread of authority blurring the lines between University and football. This blurring of authority may truly reflect the mood of the general public where our once heralded Halls Of Higher Education have taken a back seat to vaunted university sports programs.

By gaining a larger than life image on a national scene, I do not think, served Joe well. He, as most authoritarians in history, chose an image over reality. Joe's was, that an image of a sport being greater than the lives of young adolescents who were reported being abused. Coverup always seems to trip up people who chose this path because their vision is blurred from some element similar to that of zealotry. 

Joe Jo'Pa Paterno will not outlive his demise as he descends from his throne. I would hope to think the Paterno I knew would have acted differently. Maybe higher education will come out of this a winner, although the price paid by human sacrifice can not be calculated, the university system may start a critical evaluation to put sports in its proper place.

Ronald C. Downie

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