Notes from the Archdiocese of Pennsylvania

And you thought Woody Hayes’ career ended on a bad note.
What else do you say about the most wretched college football scandal of all time?*
By now you’ve probably heard a thing or two about the seismic unrest rocking Happy Valley, Pa. By the time I wake up tomorrow, the King of Penn State, Joseph V. Paterno, might no longer be the Nittany Lions’ head football coach.
Which on its face is an odd thing to contemplate. I was about to write “he’s held that job my entire life,” but then I caught myself. Turns out I’m older than I thought.
He’s in his 46th year. I’m in my 49th.
A long time ago, I was a true believer.
I was in the Superdome on Jan. 1, 1983, when a defense concocted by the now reviled Jerry Sandusky corraled Herschel Walker and helped deliver Paterno his first national championship.
I was in front of the TV in my parents’ living room four years later, when Penn State intercepted Vinny Testaverde five times and stopped Jimmy Johnson’s Miami Hurricanes at the goal line one last time in a 14-10 Fiesta Bowl upset. I screamed at the television, flopped on the carpet and averted my eyes, all while supplicating the football Gods to deliver me and my ilk a slice of Nirvana.
The Grand Experiment had triumphed. Success with Honor prevailed.
Legions of Penn State fans still worship, at least they did until Saturday, at the alter of Blue and White Integrity. Like any peoples’ mythology, it’s proven hard to shake.
As for me, I’ve long been an apostate in the Church of the Grand Experiment.
Perhaps at some point Joe Paterno was the man, or at least possessed some of the outstanding features of the man, that millions of Penn Staters came to believe in and revere. But as the years elapsed and mythology took hold of the narrative, power went to work on him.
Integrity became a brand, and Penn State football became just another billion-dollar empire. Joe Paterno became just another megalomaniacal coach. Worse, since at least Barry Switzer and Jimmy Johnson and Pete Carroll didn’t see the need to shroud themselves in holy vestments.
Now he’s devolved into the King Lear of college football, a doddering old tyrant wandering blindly among the ruins of his empire, wondering where all the sycophants went and waiting for someone to tell him it’s all over.
“I would ask,” went Paterno’s statement in the wake of the Attorney General’s charges and the wretched 23-page Grand Jury report detailing Sandusky’s alleged crimes and the university’s stupefying neglect, “all Penn Staters to continue to trust in what that name represents.”
The problem? The thing that name represents no longer exists, if it ever did at all.

*Presumption of innocence, due process, the overuse of the modifier “alleged” notwithstanding.

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7 Responses to Notes from the Archdiocese of Pennsylvania

  1. Arnold Lytle says:

    Hey, Wally! I know you’ve been in PA a while and you don’t have the travel juices flowing, but your Tacoma-area pals want to know what’s up with the Wallingford family.
    If you’re staying a while, I hope you’ve gone down to the Inquirer and offered them your services. I’m thinking they’d be hard pressed to find a better talent available part time.
    Hope everybody has settled in for the holidays and a Eastern PA winter. Say hi to Becky and Max.
    BTW, looking forward to the long form on your yarn about the beer can museum.

    • Me says:

      What is going on in Pennsylvania? Now Conlin? Who is next in the great Keystone State? Maybe W.C. Fields? Have a great Christmas, despite the mess going on there.

  2. L says:

    Don’t know if I know Arnold or not, but have to say that I certainly agree with him regarding offering your services to the Inquirer. Enjoy the picture of you, as a goofy boy, screaming at the TV set and throwing yourself down on the carpet. Mr. J-Pep might have a few words on fostering a sense of…well, you know what, but I found it to be a sweet timeless image.

  3. L says:

    What the hell? My comment is awaiting moderation? I don’t have straight access to the commenting pipeline?

  4. L says:

    Still awaiting moderation? Who do you gotta know around here to get a comment posted?

  5. James Mannoman says:

    You must be some kind of sicko. Joe Paterno is a coaching legend who has helped guide young men for four generations. He also devoted himself to Penn State and its community in such a transforming way, that our beloved State is the envy of all educational institutions.
    Perhaps sir, you never were man enough to make it on the gridiron and have to make up for your shame by attacking and tearing down an icon and a renowned university ?
    James B. Mannomann

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