I met JoePa on a warm summer day. Well, I didn’t actually meet him; it was more of a fly-by.
We were walking the beach in Avalon, New Jersey. Paterno was chugging north--shirtless, shoeless, determined. I was drifting south.
We passed and nodded to one another ever so slightly, a metaphorical tip of the hat, as it were, from me, a little "I know you know" from Joe. It was as spare and fine as a Penn State uniform.
I grew up on the West Coast, a child of the ‘60’s, yet there was always something simpatico about Penn State football. The perception began with a dateline in the L.A. Times: State College, PA. It was evocative, pleasing, and somehow suspended in time.
I wanted to go there.
Time passed and I was introduced from afar to Happy Valley, no-frills uniforms, Nittany Lions (so cool), and Eastern (you ain’t good enough) football, all under the leadership of Joe the Grocer, or so it seemed to me. It was an era of radio and newspapers, a time when the imagination was as important as the broadcast. And there, in the playground of my mind, I found myself inspired by a team I never saw and a place I've never been.
To the extent that what I fancied as a youth was reality or myth is clouded by the recent cascade of scandal-laden news. But the truths I derived about modesty, excellence, perseverance, and how to slay Goliath (if not become one!) remain clear. They will reside forever untarnished in a little blue and white box in my head, and for that I owe a measure of thanks to JoePa and Penn State.