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Review: Playing For Paterno: A Father's And Son's Recollections Of Playing for JoePa

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BSD Readers,

This post was written by Jon Johnston of SBNation's fantastic Nebraska Corn Husker blog, Corn Nation. Jon is an avid readers of sports books and likes to review them on his blog. He recently read Playing for Paterno and wanted to offer his review for us to read. So this post was written by Jon in his own words. I hope you enjoy it.


-BSD Mike

"Playing for Paterno - A Father And Son’s Recollections of Playing for JoePa" was released last season by Triumph Books. It is father Charlie Pittman’s and son Tony Pittman’s recollection of their playing days at Penn State. Both Pittmans played for undefeated Paterno teams that were not awarded national championships, Charlie in 1969, Tony in 1994.

Rather than be content with the telling of ‘glory stories’ in chronological fashion, the book doubles as a recipe for success in life, particularly in business. As an example, here are some of the chapter titles, along with an overview:

- Managing Adversity
The chapter relates how Charlie and Tony dealt with becoming starters, what encouraged and disappointed them. It includes Charlie Pittman’s frank discussion of how and why he was fired early in his business career and how he dealt with it.

- Goal Setting the Penn State Way

Talks about how great things don’t just happen, they happen because of preparation. Particularly interesting is Charlie pointing out that in an era of psychedelia and pastels, Paterno chose to keep the team’s uniform plain, and that choice was part of an overall plan for success.

- Your Only Two Choices Are to Get Better or Get Worse
Charlie Pittman talks about 1968 - the football season and the social upheaval. He then relates those to a "blue line" that Paterno painted around the football practice field. The idea behind the blue line was that you could not cross that line without being 100% focused on playing football.

- Looking for Paterno
Focused heavily on Joe Paterno, and relates that to finding a mentor and a champion - someone who will help you with your career or your life. There is a fair amount of discussion around whether or not Paterno should name a replacement.

‘Playing for Paterno’ isn’t so heavy on the "what you need to do to be successful" that it loses it’s football audience. There’s plenty of football, woven carefully around the ‘success’ theme. It’s also not so heavily filled with romanticism that it becomes unbearable. It pulls off the balance between football and motivation pretty well.

Other items of interest:

- The contrast between Charlie Pittman’s days playing for a Joe Paterno that just became a head coach versus Tony Pittman’s days when Paterno had long established his philosophies. For example, Paterno’s early "Grand Experiment" was going against the grain of the time in recruiting good players who were also good students. His challenge now - recruiting players who still believe in old fashioned values.

- The contrast between the social upheaval faced by Charlie in 1969 and the different challenges faced by his son Tony. Football books are always better when they’re placed in the context of the times in which they happened, something else done very well here.

- The ‘footballness’ of the book. I like the stories related by both Pittmans about their football experiences, whether they were about how or why Paterno made the choices he did or what each player faced in practice or in the games they played.

- The translation of motivation from football to successful businessman - the idea that "what I learned from Joe Paterno helped me be successful". Motivational books can be pretty cheesy, but they can be beneficial in that they fill in the gaps in your life if you’re missing something. They can also provide inspiration if you’re feeling like you’re not getting anywhere or you’re stuck in a rut. In ‘Playing for Paterno’ you get motivation through college football. What could be better?

If you like Penn State football (and if you don’t, why are you here?), you’ll like the book. If you like motivational books, you’ll like the book. The combination is very well done.

Review written by Jon Johnston, aka "Corn Blight" of the Nebraska SB Nation site "Corn Nation". You may wonder why a Husker fan would be reviewing a book about Penn State football and Joe Paterno. It’s because Joe Paterno is a living legend. Anything that can be learned from the experience of being around him is worth the price of a book. ‘Nuff said.