Losing a Legend: Joe Paterno 1926-2012

by: Jeff Cavanaugh
January 24, 2012

Since I was a little kid, I've been lucky enough to have an opportunity to go to sporting events all over the country. 

There was the Final Four, the time I saw Michael Jordan score 40-something against the New Jersey Nets at the height of his Chicago Bulls stardom, Brett Favre's last game at Lambeau Field, NFL playoff games, countless other NFL, NBA, MLB, college football and college basketball games.

Out of all of those great experiences, nothing ever came close to the anticipation and excitement of watching Joe Paterno and his rolled up khakis, white socks and black Nike cleats lead his Nittany Lions out of the tunnel in front of 110,000 screaming fans at Beaver Stadium.

Sadly, Joe Paterno died Sunday morning at the age of 85. Not from lung cancer, but from a broken heart. While he had an incredibly loving and supportive wife, five children and 17 grandchildren, Penn State football was his love and Penn State football his life.

image from images.wjla.com

When the Board of Trustees fired Coach Paterno in November and took his football team from him, I feared the worst – that one of my idols would succumb to indescribable heartache.

In 2008, sportscaster Brent Musberger, a longtime friend of Paterno's, told Dan Patrick that Joe, "… is fearful — and he looks back at Bear Bryant as the example — he is fearful that he would not be with us if he stepped away. He is a man that doesn't fish, doesn't play golf … he has no other interest other than his family and football."

Bear Bryant, the iconic Alabama football coach, retired in 1982 after 25 seasons, saying, "This is my school, my alma mater. I love it and I love my players." Bryant died four weeks later, and his story was obviously not lost on JoePa.

While Joe Paterno's life tragically ended under the ominous cloud of scandal, he leaves behind a legacy on the football field as the most successful coach in the history of college football and off the field as a man as generous as he was famous.

He coached the Nittany Lions to a record 409 victories (the most in FBS history), two national titles and 24 wins in bowl games. His on-field success made him a household name nationally, but his off-field philanthropy and dedication to Penn State's academics were just as impressive – donating more than $4 million to the university over the years.

The face of not only Penn State University but college football for more than four decades, Joe Paterno was a legend and a hero to many, including myself.

Regrettably, I never had the privilege to play for or know Coach Paterno; but as a football player and lifelong Penn State football fan, the loss of JoePa is no less heartbreaking.

I offer my sincerest condolences to his wife Sue and the rest of their family and friends.

There will never be another Joe Paterno. RIP Coach.

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