Saturday football was always fun during college days. Every morning I would listen to the radio, watched television in the common room, visited a friend’s room to watch football (sometimes, I would take the bus all the way to North Compus or even sleepover the night before) or during my senior year, watched the game at the stadium in full school colors. Michigan was at the top of the world and it was easy for my friends and I to laugh at other god-awful teams. One of the teams was Penn State and Joe Paterno was the coach there, as he was for the longest time until recently. Paterno was Penn State.
The Littany Lions were doing so bad that fans were calling for his head. I remember this so clearly. On TV, a fan held up a poster, urging the Penn State to fire him. At that time, I stopped cracking jokes about Paterno, and starting to feel pity for him. For all he had done for Penn State, I felt it was unfair to ask so, so unceremoniously. He survived the tough time, unlike Michigan’s Rich Rodriguez, and went on to reinstate some respectability in the football program at Happy Valley.
For that and more, he deserved respect. This was the winningest coach in college football history. That fact alone demands respect.
It is obvious that not everybody agrees with that. Amid a sex abuse scandal involving his staff (not Paterno himself), Penn State fired Paterno. The administration fired him because the university thought he had not done enough.
Maybe there was an ethical error on his behalf. He should have reported it to the police, instead of informing what he knew of merely to his superiors.
Regardless, I thought it was unfair the way he was fired. Somehow, I thought he was the scapegoat.
It must have been hard on him. When you coach at the same place for 40 uninterrupted years, the place just stops being the place where you work. It will be your life. Imagine how Paterno felt when he was fired. Already suffering from cancer, the firing must have made it all worse.
Paterno died today. The knife that drove through his heart was not cancer. It could not have been. It must have been unfairness.