When the name Penn State is brought up in conversation, what is the first thing that usually comes to a person’s mind? Nine out of ten times, the answer is Joe Paterno.
This past year has made the whole world think differently of the former Penn State football coach. For a man who was once thought of as a college football legend and an icon people referred to simply as “JoePa,” Paterno’s name has been tarnished because of a series of non-football related actions.
Regardless of how many wins the NCAA might be taking away from the school, and from Paterno’s own record, or how many statues get torn dorn, no one will ever be able to take away the contributions that Paterno left on the game of football.
The National Football League owes a lot to Paterno for the training and mentoring of hundreds of skilled athletes under his tenure at Penn State. Those who had the chance to play under Paterno had a much easier path to the NFL due to the professionalism of the program than students from most other universities.
Penn State at one time was referred to as “Linebacker University” for its reputation for always having great linebackers that came out of their programs and entered the NFL.
Names that may come to mind include Jack Ham, Greg Buttle, Shane Conlan, Lavar Arrington, Paul Posluzny, and the latest being Dan Connor.
Paterno has coached as many as 78 All-Americans, and well over 300 hundred future NFL players during his time with the Nittany Lions.
In a three to four year period of time, Paterno helped prepare young men for the next chapter of their lives, with professional football being the next step for several players each and every year. There has been and will continue to be a strong alumni of former Penn State greats to play in the NFL, and that tradition was started by Paterno.
Many NFL greats were taught by the college football Hall of Famer during their time at Penn State, including Todd Blackledge, John Cappelletti, Bobby Engram, Mitch Frerotte, Dick Hoak, Larry Johnson, Joe Jurevicius, O.J. McDuffie, Matt Millen, Lydell Mitchell, Mike Munchak, Scott Radecic, Mickey Shuler, Curt Warner, and last but not least, Franco Harris.
Harris, who has always supported his alma mater, said, following the sudden death of Paterno, “You look at his record and history, and then you look at all the pro athletes, All-Americans, doctors, lawyers and great people he’s produced, and it’s unreal.”
Current players in the NFL, who live on for Paterno and his family include NaVorro Bowman, Kerry Collins, Tamba Hali, Jared Odrick, Kareem McKenzie, Cameron Wake, and lastly Posluzny and Connor.
As the character “The Babe” once said in the 1993 movie The Sandlot, “Heroes get remembered but legends never die.” Although Paterno’s legacy is being damaged in the present, years from now people will remember his legacy as a beloved coach and educator at the University of Penn State. It will take time for the program to recover from the sanctions imposed by the NCAA this week, but years from now students and alumni will again be proud to chant “We Are, Penn State.”
By Billy Bonneau