Last night Joe Paterno was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. With everyone talking about BCS hooplah and injustices it didn't get nearly the media attention it should have. In fact they didn't even televise it. You had to go to a webcast to see it. Here's Joe's acceptance speach in case you haven't seen it already.
In recent years people have said Joe lost it. They listen to his mumbled speech. They peer into the Coke bottles on his face searching for his eyes. They see the graying hair and the gimpy walk and they write him off as senile. But you can see from that speech that he's still as sharp as a tack and nobody can work a room like Joe Paterno.
We could point to the 58 years of coaching, 371 career victories, five undefeated seasons, two National Championships, 22 bowl victories, and the double digit coach of the year awards and say Joe Paterno belongs in the Hall of Fame on that alone. But Joe Paterno has had a much greater impact than just winning football games.
His former players adore him. Nearly 200 of them showed up in New York to wish him well this week. Earlier this year Tamba Hali came back to Penn State to catch a game. When Joe ran into him he stopped and asked him, "What are you doing here?"
"We had an open date," replied Hali.
"Get the heck out of there and have some fun," Paterno shot back.
Hali replied, "I just wanted to tell you that I miss you."
That goes to show you how much coach Paterno means to these kids. It shows the difference he's made in their lives. They come and go to school. They graduate. Some make names for themselves in the NFL while other go on to become doctors, lawyers, and CEO's. But they all keep coming back. They come back to visit him in the hospital. They come back to introduce their kids to the legend. They come back to thank him for keeping their butts in line and turning them into successful members of society.
Joe Paterno built Penn State. It was just an advanced school for farmers' kids when he took over. It was his football program that put Penn State on the map of the nation. The publicity from his football program along with his face and charisma created a money making machine that has turned our Dear Ol' State into one of the premier research facilities in the Nation. His crowning achievement came when he raised $13.5 million to build a new library for the campus. As a show of gratitude the university named it the Paterno Library. Show me another school that named their library after a sitting football coach. That should be the legacy of Joe Paterno.
Recently it was discovered that Joe Paterno makes a base salary of $512,000 a year: a small salary when compared to other football coaches at other Division I institutions. You could probably figure he made half of that in the 1990's when he donated $1 million of his own money to the library effort. How many of you can say you've donated four times your annual salary to charity in one check? In all it's estimated that Joe has donated in excess of $4.5 million to various university fund raising efforts and scholarship endowments. Truly an amazing amount considering Joe and Sue live in a tiny three bedroom ranch house just a few blocks from campus.
When I see people calling for a new coach after a loss to Michigan I just shake my head. You people really have no clue. Do you really want to throw out Joe Paterno because he lost four games this year? Are you really that short sighted? Is that what it's all about? Is that all that matters to you?
I'm proud to be a Penn State fan. I'm proud of Joe Paterno. Sure I expected to have more Big Ten titles under our belt by now. Sure I'm disappointed that we haven't won a National Championship in 20 years. But I'm willing to accept things the way they are because win or lose we compete with honor. Maybe we'll never win more than eight games again under Joe Paterno, but I intend to enjoy this time as long as he's around. Because I don't want to look back on this period and realize we had a treasure in our midst and we didn't appreciate him.
Thank you, Coach Paterno, for all that you've done for Penn State and College Football.