Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Bo, Woody, Joe Paterno and the 1970s

The news coming out of State College, Pennsylvania this week hasn't been kind to legendary Nittany Lions Head Football Coach Joe Paterno.

With the revelations that former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky has been accused of molesting young boys during and after his time at Penn State have the walls of college football's once stoic institution crumbling down.

As I write this post, Coach Paterno had issued a statement today that this year will be the last year he roams the sidelines as Penn State's coach.

The Nittany Lions are playing their final home game of the season this Saturday against the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

I wanted to write something a little different in my response to all that has already been written many times over all across the Internet.

My feelings about coach Paterno keep taking me back to my youth of the 1970s.

I started following college football in 1976.

My beloved Michigan Wolverines were the #1 team in the country, led by Bo Schembechler, in his 7th season as the Wolverines top football man.

I fell in love with the Wolverines, and college football, and would watch any and all college games on TV that I could.

Big time college football programs and their coaches ruled the 1970s.

Woody Hayes at Ohio State, battling Bo and Michigan every year...on and off the field.

Bear Bryant at Alabama, battling  Shug Jordan at Auburn, Fred Akers at Texas of the then Southwestern Conference, smashing heads against Arkansas and Lou Holtz.

Tom Osborne at Nebraska, Barry Switzer at Oklahoma, battling it out in the then Big 8.

Johnny Majors at Pittsburgh and the annual end of the year get together with Joe Paterno at Penn State.

I always rooted for Paterno and the Nittany Lions when they played.

Penn State was an independent in football in the mid '70s, still nearly twenty years before they would join the Big Ten conference, in 1993.

Independent football was big in the '70's.

Teams like Penn State, Pittsburgh, Florida State, and Notre Dame, always seemed to play a lot of big football games all over the country, filling up non conference games of teams from the SEC, the Big 8, the Pac 8, and the Big Ten.

I would watch many college games, after every Michigan game, and of course, many bowl game.

I would find one team from every conference that I followed when the Wolverines were not playing.

I chose to follow Maryland from the Uncle moved to Bowie, Maryland...USC from the West Coast, and the Pac-8 Conference.

The Midwest was for Nebraska from the Big 8, Arkansas was my team from the Southwest, because my father was born in Evening Shade, and Michigan State from the Big Ten and my home state of Michigan...except when they played the Wolverines.

For some reason I never followed any SEC teams, although I would watch 'Bama play quite a bit.

Joe Paterno was as big a name as any in college football when I first started watching.

I'm not really sure why, but I just liked Penn State, and would watch the team play when college football was at the height of inter-conference games.

Today's non conference games are nothing like the 1970s and 1980s.

Alabama-Penn State...Notre Dame-Alabama...Michigan-Notre Dame...Penn State-Pittsburgh...Penn State-Nebraska(now a Big Ten game).

Florida State-Nebraska....Ohio State-Oklahoma...Penn State-Miami...Miami-Notre Dame.

Classic games from a classic past.

Joe Paterno was, and still is,considered one of the best college football coaches, and as of today, his 409 wins stands as the most in Division called the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Paterno has been Penn State and Nittany Lions Football since becoming an assistant under then PSU coach Rip Engle, in 1950.
In 1966 Paterno took over for Engle as the Head Football Coach, and the legend of Penn State Football was born.

Paterno had five undefeated seasons between 1966-1973, and yet the Nittany Lions never won a National Championship.

I guess, in a way, Paterno was, to me, a carbon copy of Bo Schembechler, and that made him and Penn State a team I could relate to.

I rooted on the Nittany Lions and felt bad for Paterno when, from the 3 yard line, Penn State failed on four downs to get into the end zone, losing the 1979 Sugar Bowl, and the National Championship, to the Bear an Alabama.

I cheered JoePa on as he continued to build powerful teams in State College, and when he and Penn State beat Georgia in the 1983 Sugar Bowl for his 1st NC, I clapped and smiled for him, his players, and their fans.

In 1986, when teams like Miami were changing the way players behaved on college football fields, I stood by Bo and JoePa, and would always root for Miami to lose, just like they did that night in January of 1987, when Penn State beat the Hurricanes, 14-10, for their 2nd title.

In both the '82 and '86 season, for 33 years, the Penn State defense was run by another Nittany Lion legend, Jerry Sandusky.

Penn State and Joe Paterno always stood for what was right about college football.
They never changed, never.

Penn State ran out the same offense for 45 years.

They ran out young men like Matt Millen, Jack Ham, and LaVarr Arrington at "Linebacker U."

The Nittany Lions ran out in the same at home, white on the road, with the same white helmet with a blue stripe running down the middle.

They ran out on the field with the same white socks and the same black cleats...year, after year, after year.

And they ran out the same Head Football Coach for 45 years, Joe Paterno.

Never a blemish, never a whisper, never as much as a hint that anything was ever wrong in State College, Pennsylvania.
Year, after year, after year, after year.

And then, like a thunderbolt from the heavens, the once untouchable Penn State football program is coming apart at the seams.

Fans and Alumnus from Penn State can't believe what they're hearing.

Joe Paterno knew what was going on with Sansusky all those years, and yet he allowed Sandusky to continue to come to the Penn State football facilities, bringing young boys to practice.
Only Paterno, a few Penn State administrators, a few Nittany Lions assistant coaches, defensive coordinator Sandusky, and the victims themselves know what really happened in each and every one of those horrible, horrible days of abuse.

Why would Paterno, a man of substance and strength all those yeaars not demand the university do the right thing and report Sandusky to the police?

When Paterno reported what he was told to Penn State officials, why didn't those officials call the police?

The obvious answer is not the one we want to hear.

No one at Penn State wanted the scandal to go public, no one wanted their jobs at Penn State to go away.

No one wanted the legend of Penn State and Joe Paterno to come under such scrutiny.
They covered it up, and never reported Sandusky to the police.

Those Penn State administrators, athletic officials, and yes, Joe Paterno himself, were looking out for everyone but the innocent young men who trusted their lives to a friend, a trusted member of the community.

They trusted long time Penn State coach, Jerry Sandusky with their well being as a substitute parent.

Sandusky violated that trust when he did what he did, and every one in State College Pennsylvania violated the public trust when they let Sandusky continue un punished for his wickedness.

Amid all these allegations, coach Sandusky, through his lawyers, has pleaded his innocence, and in America, a person is indeed innocent until proven guilty.
Jerry Sandusky will have a chance to prove his innocence.

As for the victims, well, their innocence was taken away long, long, long, ago.

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