Joe Paterno is trending on Twitter, and unfortunately it’s not because of his great legacy. It’s about questions (many which are unsubstanciated in full) about his character and honor in handling the information about Jerry Sandusky. I wanted to share my first interaction with Joe in an effort to remind people of who he was for most of his life, the person I knew. While there may be truth that comes out that disappoints, it’s just difficult for me to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
It caused me to recall a funny story of when I first connected with JoePa.
I was home alone with my son, when I received a phone call from my husband, John. He was a District Manager for Southeast Toyota and was on Jim Moran’s beautiful Yacht, The Gallant Lady. His voice sounded somewhat excited and playful as he often gets when he has something up his sleeve.
He said “There’s somebody here that’d like to talk with you”.
He handed the phone to another man who said “Hi Connie, this is Joe Paterno”.
I immediately replied. “No it’s not, no you’re not. My husband is a practical joker, and He’s obviously playing one of his jokes on me, and I’m not going to fall for it.”
He told me “I really am Joe Paterno!”.
I still didn’t buy it, so I decided to administer a pop quiz. “If you’re really Joe Paterno, then you can easily tell me who the Jets selected from your school in the first round in the 1990 draft.”
He immediately answered, “Blair Thomas”.
He was correct, but that was an easy question. I refused to be had by another John Carberg practical joke, so I decided to dig a little deeper with my next pop quiz question.
I asked him, “Who was the player that was a terrible practice player, was often in your doghouse, but turned out to be a great linebacker for the Jets?” I knew that there was no way an impersonator with a limited knowledge of sports would be able to know this tidbit.
“Lance Mehl”, he said.
When he said those words, it dawned on me. I’d put one of the most famous coaches in NCAA history in the hotseat. I was talking to the real Joe Paterno.
“I’ve never been grilled into having to prove who I was, Connie,” He laughed.
We ended up talking for 15-20 minutes. He was kind enough to call me, just doing it because my husband had asked him to. He was genuinely kind. I met him in person at the Orange Bowl a couple years after that and he was the exact same person, kind yet passionate about talking football. It makes me sad what the evil acts of a man like Sandusky has brought about. Instead of riding into the sunset, JoePa was strung up and hanged at noon. I don’t know about his actual culpability in the Sandusky case, but everything that I got to know about him reminded me of the coaches from a different era. They thought about the world differently, often not even accepting the level of evil that could be perpetrated. He might have known something from what he heard, but he was from a generation that didn’t imagine hearing sexual deviance at every corner.
It’s very sad to me what is becoming of his legacy, but it points a startling portrait of how every play counts, who every decision matters. Whether or not he did anything legally or morally wrong, it causes us all to pause and consider the decisions we should or shouldn’t have made. I’ll remember JoePa as that man on the phone, patiently answering quiz questions from someone he was doing a favor for.