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.