Trying to sit here and sum up my thoughts about Joe Paterno isn't easy. My entire childhood and early adulthood, I saw much of my grandfather Edward in Paterno and vice versa. They were the same age and, in a strange twist of fate, both men died on the same January day nine years apart.
Both men absolutely loved Penn State football, and could be cranky with the best of them. Both men were also very loyal to their respective families. There was nothing my grandfather wouldn't do for his children and grandchildren. There was nothing Joe Paterno wouldn't do for his Penn State family, players and students alike.
Just listen to all of Joe's former players on the radio today talking about how much they loved and admired Paterno, and how they wanted to thank Joe for teaching them how to be men. Just look at how several former players were quick to come to his defense in November when he was removed from his position as head coach.
Paterno gave his entire life to educating young men and women to aspire to greatness. "Believe deep down in your heart you are destined to do great things," is one of his memorable quotes.
The longer Joe Paterno continued to patrol the sidelines, the more familiar he became to generations of Penn State fans. It's not often we see a coach last that long in one place. In fact, I would argue Paterno was the last of his kind. Loyal to the very end.
The end of his tenure was straight out of a Greek tragedy, and not the way Paterno deserved to live his final days. I am not attempting to downplay the awful things that Jerry Sandusky allegedly did to his victims, or the appalling lack of action by Penn State administrators after discovering what was happening.
Paterno himself isn't completely blameless in all of this. By his own admission he wishes he had done more. He did what he thought was right, and many will argue for the rest of time whether he was right or wrong. Show me a single person on this Earth who doesn't wish they'd done things differently in their past. No one is perfect.
All we can judge is the ideals and ways a person chose to lead their lives. Paterno never seemed to put his needs first over Penn State. He turned down offers of more lucrative coaching gigs because he believed in what he was doing at Penn State. He also chose to give much of his earned wealth from coaching football back to the university.
How fitting is it that the library at Penn State bears the name of the football coach while the stadium is currently named after a former university president? It's usually the other way around. And yet that's exactly the way Paterno would have wanted it.
People will always have their opinions of the man, and nothing you really say will change how they feel. The fact remains that to many in the Penn State and State College community, he was like a grandfather to us. His words of inspiration will resonate throughout Penn State University for the rest of time.
I am reminded of a line from one of my favorite baseball movies from my childhood, The Sandlot. "Heroes get remembered, but legends never die."
His death will not end our memories of him. He lives on in the spirit of every student and player he inspired to be the best they could be. Future generations of Penn State students will be impacted by the donations he generously gave back to the school. His legacy is still being written.
I know that Nittany Nation will grieve over his death, but focus on the good memories. Focus on being the great person he wanted you to be. That is the best way to honor Paterno. That's exactly what he would have wanted.
R.I.P. Joe. You will be sorely missed.