Much has been written, and will be written, about the tremendous job Coach Bill O'Brien did in guiding Penn State's football team, the university and all of Nittany Nation this season and it will all be well deserved. Similarly, Michael Mauti, Michael Zordich, Matt McGloin and others will be lauded as the embodiment of leadership and excellence and, like the accolades given to O'Brien, it will be well deserved. However, there is another person to whom we owe a bit of gratitude for the great season that was 2012 and that is the late Joe Paterno.
When recruiting young men to come to Penn State to play football, Paterno always focused as much on the character and academic capabilities of a young man as much as 40-yard dash times and bench presses. He would then mold those young men into the leaders that became the embodiment of the "Grand Experiment." In so doing, he would create a team that would often out-heart, as well as out-talent, other teams.
Over the course of the last thirteen months, the "Grand Experiment" has been transformed from a badge of honor to a punchline by many in the national punditry. They have mocked Joe's legacy of teaching young men how to be leaders in their communities. Yet, since Mark Emmert handed down his "crippling sanctions," the young men who comprised this year's senior class have led this team, this school and this community in a manner that befits their distinction of having been Penn State football players and have restored honor to that distinction. In short, the young men who led this team, this year became the outstanding men Paterno promised their parents they would be. It is not only a testament to the outstanding character of these Seniors, but also to the vision employed by Paterno since the 1960s.
In the years ahead, as the sanctions wane and Coach O'Brien is able to recruit a full compliment of players and compete for bowl games, B1G titles and National Championships, the 2012 Senior Class' accomplishments on the field will blend into the tapestry of Penn State football history. But their vital role as links in the chain between the Paterno and O'Brien eras will ensure that the Grand Experiment continues to be bigger than any one player, coach or team. It will be about a university, nestled in the mountains of Pennsylvania that continues to thrive by a code of conduct that places wins and losses in their proper perspective. That is Joe Paterno's legacy and it lives on today. For their role in healing a community, the 2012 Senior Class may be Paterno's finest recruiting class and, as such, is the greatest gift he ever gave to the university he loved so much.