As a typical students at Penn State, most of us never had much actual interaction with Joe Paterno during our years on campus outside of going to games on Saturdays. But there are those rare times when you would come across the legend. I posted this on facebook earlier this morning and I received some responses from other alums who had similar experiences. I thought it would be good to hear about it from the people on this website who understand what Joe Paterno meant to us.
I had two interactions with Coach Paterno during my 4 years at Penn State.
The first was my sophomore year. I had turned my ankle playing basketball at the IM building the previous night and was limping across campus going to class on a typical snowy winter day. I was looking down at my feet as I walked and I was probably feeling sorry for myself. As I walked I ran into another set of feet and looked up. It was Joe Paterno. I was stunned as I had never been this close to him before. My mouth probably hung agape. He looked at me and my ankle and he said, "Hang in there buddy, you'll get better". It was nothing really. But I think I glided the rest of the way to class. I was so happy that Coach Paterno had stopped his walk to say something to me. While I cannot recall for certain, but I don't think anyone else had stopped to give me any words of encouragement that day.
The second was my senior year when I was working at the Hi-Way Pizza restaurant off Westerly Parkway south of campus near the High School. It's closed now but it was a pizza pub that catered mostly to locals, not students. While working one evening, Joe and Sue Paterno show up for dinner. They arrived at the hostess stand and waited to be seated. I was working the six pack shop and the take out window at the front or the store. I knew the waitress who waited on them. She told the rest of us that they were there to celebrate their anniversary. Joe and Sue Paterno had decided to go out to dinner for their wedding anniversary at Hi-Way Pizza?? They appeared really happy during their meal talking to each other. We generally left them alone with the exception of our manager going over twice to check on their meal. He tried to comp their meal but they refused. I was left with the impression that these were humble people who were just like any of the rest of us. They were just like my parents or anyone else's who wanted to go to dinner for their anniversary. It didn't matter where they went, it only mattered who they were with.
These were my two personal interactions with Joe Paterno. Both were simple moments that underlined to me that Joe did not view himself as above all others. As much as we put him on a pedestal, he didn't put himself on one.