The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

January 22, 2012

Bill Bowman's college football column: Paterno made impact at PSU

By William Bowman
The Daily Item

---- — My favorite Joe Paterno story was also one of his favorites. Must have been because I heard it at least once a year over the past 15 years.

Joseph Vincent Paterno wasn't supposed to be a football coach. He often talked about how his parents wanted him to be a lawyer and he probably would have been a good one. He got into coaching to pay off the college loans and fell in love with it.

One day he called home and told his parents he was going stay as a college football coach. "My mom was crying, 'What did you go to college for?'" Paterno often recalled. "Then my dad said, 'You better have an impact.'"

Paterno, who died Sunday morning at the age of 85, a little more than two months after he was fired from the position that made him reluctantly famous, certainly had an impact and so, so much more.

"He leaves us with a peaceful mind, comforted by his 'living legacy' of five kids, 17 grandchildren, and hundreds of young men whose lives he changed in more ways than can begin to be counted," read a statement released by the Paterno family.

For some, however, six decades worth of good were forever tarnished with what happened back in 2002 and what has come to light in recent months. Those people might be right. Who am I to tell them they aren't? But Paterno's impact goes endlessly deeper.

I have a book sitting on my desk about Paterno. Actually there are three of them, but one has this quote on the back cover from Paterno. Since reading it I always hoped it would come true, but sadly felt it never would.

"People always come up to me and ask me which one of my football teams was the greatest," Paterno said. "I tell them to ask me 20 years after my last one plays so I can see how many CEOs, teachers, doctors, or lawyers they go on to be."

That's the Joe Paterno I will remember.

I remember him that way because he brought my family together more times than I can count. I remember riding in the backseat of my grandfather's Cadillac, after a long day of tailgating and having him cuss out Paterno to no end after Alabama, then No. 6, came to Beaver Stadium and beat No. 5 Penn State by two touchdowns. I was 8 and it feels like it happened yesterday.

I remember sitting with my dad and uncle in the third row behind the visitor's bench against Rutgers one season. We took turns egging on the punter until he took a couple steps onto the field on third down only to realize he wasn't up yet. I was 12.

I remember going to games with my wife before she was wife. Now my daughter goes with her while I work. One of the first things my daughter asks when I get back to the car after writing is "What did coach Joe Paterno say today, daddy?"

We did it because of Penn State football and Joe Paterno was, is, and always will be the face of Penn State football. He will be for me and he will be for many other people.

Lydell Mitchell, an All-American halfback under Paterno in the 1970s, said Sunday that Paterno's legacy, while still being written with recent developments, will carry on.

"Joe's legacy will always be intact because we won't let Joe's legacy die," Mitchell said about Penn State's former players.

He had an impact on them, just like his father wanted him to.

If not, when Joe finds Angelo Paterno upon entering the pearly gates sometime soon, he can relay this message from Mike Guman, another former player: "Football's a small part of his legacy, but it goes far beyond that, You could have become a good football player at many places but you wouldn't have become the man you are if you didn't go to Penn State."

Rest In Peace, Joseph Vincent Paterno. There will never be another like you.

n Sports editor Bill Bowman covers college sports for The Daily Item. Email comments to bbowman@dailyitem.com or message him at twitter.com/williambbowman.