Epitaphs don’t get any more complicated than this.
The addendum of two and a half month’s worth of excavation into the Penn State cover up has left the final say on Joe Paterno’s open to some debate. His place in history has a dimensionality that wasn’t even in the conversation at the start of his last season in the game. Back in October, Paterno was gearing up for a BCS run and showing little if any let up to the idea that he was going to be coaching them up forever.
And then November changed everything. It was like the scaffolding for his Rushmore bust collapsed with the bad news. And with it came the reality that icons are really nothing more than human beings with really impressive vanity tags.
In essence, we lost Joe Paterno before we lost Joe Paterno. We lost him in the horrible imagery of those daily accounts of abuse and the neglectful minding of it. The worst part was that, this precipitous fall was of his own doing, or undoing as the case would be.
His passing isn’t so much a shock as it is a dull aching for what might have been. If only he had done the right thing when he had every chance in the world to do it. If only is a tough phrase, and in Paterno’s story a tragic one.
I’m not here to bury him some more. Piling on is not the point of this. It’s just that, I can’t help thinking about how differently all of this could have played itself out. How the day of Joe Paterno’s passing could have been and should have been a time to ponder and reflect on the greatness of a man, without having to examine how the foibles of legacy building got in the way of all that.
He was a transcendent figure and a brilliant purpose to so many lives. The best way to describe him would be to say, imagine a God who carries a lunch bucket to work every day.
I gave myself some time to fetch those better times from the old memory banks, and I kept it to the field of play just because it’s easier to do so. So I thought back to that first and long time coming title his Lions won against Georgia in the Super-dome. And there was an amazing night in the desert when his underdog squad took the mighty Hurricanes to the mat and pinned them but good. There were so many of those great moments across a forty six year football life. Back before things got more complicated than we could have imagined.
All of those thoughts left me wondering, though. How Sunday could have been different, and how it should have been different.