The pain and suffering are over for Joe Paterno.
The legendary coach was said by family members and close friends to have battled fiercely since being diagnosed with lung cancer two months ago, but this was an opponent that didn’t play within the white lines or by any rules.
The photos of Paterno that accompanied a Washington Post interview in his home a few weeks ago showed all too sadly the toll the illness was taking on his 85- year-old body,
Still, the news over the weekend that he was gravely ill, and the announcement of his death Sunday morning came as a shock. It was less than three months ago that he coached a game — his record-setting 409th career victory and one that would turn out to be his final game in a remarkable 46-year run as Penn State’s head football coach and ambassador for the university.
And it is in the context of the events since that game that make Paterno’s death somewhat surreal. What the Penn State board of trustees determined was insufficient action on his part after hearing of former assistant Jerry Sandusky’s alleged rape of a child in a football facility shower resulted in his firing.
The allegations of other sexual assaults by Sandusky, the thought of what alleged victims endured, perjury charges against two Penn State officials, the shame and humiliation endured by the university at large, and the dark cloud over the football program had to make Paterno’s mental anguish as harsh as what he was physically enduring.
Unfortunately, that is the hard, cold reality, and one that makes his death all the more difficult for Paterno’s many admirers.
Time will determine if Paterno’s enormous accomplishments as a coach, his financial and personal contributions to the university he loved and the impact he made on the lives of many young men over the years will outweigh the sad final chapter of his life and career.
As much as remains to be determined in the Sandusky case — the criminal justice process and the university’s own in-house investigation — we think and certainly hope Paterno’s large body of work as a coach and person will be his legacy.
We won’t repeat his coaching feats or his off-the-field deeds. They are outlined in detail on other pages today.
But we will note the outpouring of love and admiration from Penn State students who held a vigil at his statue outside Beaver Stadium and all the tributes that continue to pour in from current and former players, coaching colleagues and many others.
More so than any of his victories, that speaks volumes about who Joe Paterno was and how he will be remembered by those of us fortunate enough to have followed Penn State and college football during his era.
Speaking of that era, a criticism often leveled against Paterno in recent years was that he was too old to connect with younger generations of today.
Tell that to the young men and women — 19, 20, 21 years old — who stood in snow in bone-chilling temperatures Saturday night to pray for and honor him. Rest in peace, Joe. And thanks.
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