Honoring Joe Paterno: We Are, Because You Were

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This past week has been a whirlwind of emotions here in the Penn State community.  Especially touching during these troubling times were the tributes paid to this one-of-a-kind man by the Penn State family: a candlelight vigil, two viewings, a funeral procession and a memorial service.  Thousands showed up to each tribute displaying unconditional love and support for the Paterno family.

On Thursday, Jan. 26 a public memorial service was held for the man who did so much for this University, he considered it his second family.  After over half a century at Penn State, it was necessary to celebrate Joe Paterno’s life in this abundant fashion.

I was one of the fortunate students who were able to obtain a ticket for a seat at the memorial service held at the Bryce Jordan Center.  Over 12,000 members of the Penn State family—students, alumni, friends and family—gathered to honor Joe Paterno.  

The memorial service began with the Paterno family entering the service to a standing ovation: Sue Paterno, Paterno’s five children, and his 17 grandchildren.  The Penn State Glee Club sang the alma mater.  Next came the speeches from former football players representing each decade of Paterno’s tenure as head coach, along with a few others.  Each speaker shared their favorite memories of Joe Pa and what his legacy meant to them.  In between each speaker, touching video montages were shown, highlighting different aspects of his life, set to songs like “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You.”

Here are some quotes that resonated with me, and will forever remain in my heart.  Judging by the standing ovations after each quote or story, it is evident the Penn State family is in agreement with me:

        First to speak was Kenny Jackson, Penn State’s first All-American wide receiver.  Jackson began by first honoring Sue:  “Sue, you've done so many things in that home that have changed so many lives."  And while Joe Pa is not known for acknowledging compliments, Jackson announced that today was an exception: "Today, my teacher, you have no choice. Today, we're going to show you how much we love you."

        Former Penn State Quarterback Todd Blackledge spoke next.  He spoke of Paterno’s love for the team: "The message was understood: It was about the team. Football was his experimental lab for that.  One of his greatest quotes was 'Success is never final, and failure is never fatal.'"

        Lauren Perrotti, a senior of the Paterno Fellows Program, and Susan Welsh, Dean of the College of the Liberal Arts, both spoke of the Paterno’s academic generosity and support of academics.  Lauren explained that, “the Paterno way has become the Penn State way, and ‘Success with Honor’ has become the standard.”  Susan followed by saying, "I, and all of us, are indebted to Joe Paterno, what he did for us and what he inspired in us."

        Charlie Pittman, Penn State Running back from 1967-1969, spoke on behalf of the 1960s decade of the Paterno-inspired.  He spoke of his son, Tony, who also played for Penn State, and how he and his son were the first father-son duo that Joe Paterno coached. “Joe made his program his second family.  Thank you, Sue, for sharing him with us.” And, “Joe wasn’t trying to build perfection.  He was, bit by bit, building a habit of excellence.”

        Jeff Bast, the first mayor of ‘Paternoville,’ emphasized that Joe had an impact not just on the football players whom he recruited, but that ‘he recruited the 'enter your name here.' He recruited all of us."

        Phil Knight, Chairman of Nike, shared his need for a hero in life, a role model, and Paterno was just that for him.  One of the benefits of his job was meeting Joe Paterno.  Knight shared touching and humorous stories of his friendship with Joe Paterno.  Knight assured the crowd that “not once did he let me down. Not one time.”

        Former Miami Dolphin’s player and current sportscaster, Jimmy Cefalo, shared that “those of my colleagues in the media will tell you that his legacy is his 409 wins. It’s not.”  To Cefalo, “[t]he world is a whole lot better for me having known him.”

        Chris Marrone represents the 1990s: "We share a common bond, and something much more than football.”   Even through multiple injuries, Joe Paterno showed him support: “He refused to let me do anything but be a part of the team."  Marrone believes, "[t]he greatness of Joe Paterno lies within each one of us."

        Seahawks' Michael Robinson then spoke.  "When I met Joe, something was different about him. He didn't lie to me. Not once."  In the midst of preparing for the Pro Bowl in Hawaii, Robinson flew to Penn State to speak: "I wouldn't be at any other place in the world right now.  Other than God and my mother, Joe is the main reason I'm in the Pro Bowl, or even on this level right now."

        Michael Mauti was the representative for the present team.  "These lettermen have set the bar for what it means to have success with honor.  Our job is to uphold that tradition."

The final speaker of the night, and the most touching, was Joe Paterno’s son, Jay Paterno.  After an extended standing ovation, Jay shared his thoughts of his father’s life and legacy: "He never sought celebrity. Here is a man whose fame was accidental."  Jay believes that his father’s "'Success with Honor' was a ripple that has grown to a tsunami washing across the world."  Jay shared that President Obama called Sue to offer his condolences and praise the Paterno family for everything they’ve done, and when Sue told the President that the contributions would continue, he responded with, “wouldn't expect anything less.”

In conclusion, Jay asked everyone to stand, hold hands, and pray ‘Our Father’ to “feel the bonds of Penn State,” just like Joe Paterno always had the team pray ‘Our Father’ because “there is no ‘I’ or ‘me.’”  The most intimate part of the service was when Jay concluded the memorial by sharing the final words he whispered to his father:  "Dad, you won. You did all you could do.  You can go home now."

As the Paterno family exited, a lone Blue Band member played the chorus of “Hail To The Lion” on his trumpet.   
We all give thanks to the Paterno family for allowing us to mourn the loss and celebrate the life of a true legend, Joe Paterno.  We promise that Penn State will continue to live the Paterno way.  In the words of Charlie Pittman: “Rest in peace, Coach.  We’ll take it from here.”

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About The Author

Maddie is a junior at Penn State pursuing a major in Public Relations with a minor in Business. She is from Timonium, MD. She loves all things pop culture and hopes to pursue a career in the entertainment industry.