I apologize if you think I blog too much about football.

It’s a fair critique by the way, but I’m a big boy, I can take it. My thicker-than-usual skin on this subject matter was incubated through countless years of advice from my parents. You see, this football obsession was started at an early age and I was appropriately counseled by my folks to not put all of my eggs in a single metaphorical basket. They were right… to an extent.

But critique or not, it is nearly impossible to avoid blogging about the passing of the winningest major (U.S.) college football coach of all time, especially given the pigskin-related headlines that dominate the news. The Super Bowl contenders have been chosen. Planning for the 100th Grey Cup is well underway. Coaches are being hired, fired and re-hired, on both sides of the border. Plus, the whole horrific Sandusky allegations are rolling towards trial. (I have taken into consideration the request of the university’s interim president and stopped calling it the Penn State Affair. It really was the alleged evil of one sick individual, as opposed to an institutional crime. Unless we find out the institution’s level of complicity is higher than any of us grossly unimagined.)

The topic at hand, of course, is the sad farewell we must give Joe Paterno, who died last weekend at age 85. Have to admit I was caught off guard. Maybe it was because we were led to believe he was recovering from the lung cancer for which he had been hospitalized. Maybe it was because there was little warning. Maybe it was because we just believed he would never die.
Paterno embodied the concept of eternal living. Mainly as a coach. But also as a person. We felt he could live to 100, coach to 100, and embody all that was right about U.S. college football (as little as there is), forever and ever.

But for many, he died when the allegations against one of his longtime associates, along with the fact that he had done just the bare minimum when confronted with claims of a horrific sexual assault within the confines of his football facility, came to light.

He clearly died for the university trustees who acted unbelievably swiftly in terminating his role as coach.

He probably died for the alleged victims of subsequent assaults, who realized too late that one of the most powerful men in the state could have done more to halt the actions of the accused, and spared them.

He seemingly died within when his ability to patrol the Nittany Lion sideline was forever taken from him.

I read a quote that Paterno died from a broken heart. It referenced the great University of Alabama Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, who said if he stopped coaching he would die, and subsequently passed away just a week after his actual retirement from the game. But I suspect Joe Pa died of more than a broken heart.

Against the backdrop of your anticipated skepticism I would offer this. I think Joe Paterno did lose the will to live. But not because of losing his job. He was too big for that. I think. But how do I know, I never met him. So I am projecting. No, I think he realized how wrong he was. How following university protocol was not enough. How for once in his life, he betrayed his own standards. My gut tells me the ghosts of these allegations chased him for many years. Most people have enough moral fiber to know when they have done something wrong. Most of us have a hard time shaking a guilt complex. Most of us hope that subconscious guilty plea goes away.

But then it all comes out. Usually not to the worldwide web of humiliation that Paterno suffered. But out it comes. When it does, we wince in pain; shake our bodies like the guilt is some sort of slime encasement; move our legs like we can somehow elude the punishing tackle we deserve; and play mind games with ourselves to justify our position.

Paterno had to endure his wincing under the glare of spotlights. Paterno had to endure the accusations of guilt, without a fair hearing. Paterno had to endure the punishment of body shot after body shot.

I am not saying he didn’t deserve it. I am not saying he did. I am just sharing my musings and misgivings with you.

The sport of football lost a great coach. A family lost their patriarch. A wife lost her husband. A community lost an icon. Many say that society lost a great man.

I can say I lost a hero… twice… just a few short months apart. It didn’t have to be that way. He should have spoken up and the world would mourn the loss of a great coach, a great family man, a great leader and a great saviour.

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