(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.


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Sunday, November 20, 2005

You're Not Too Old To Learn

I'll be the first to admit that I was wrong about Joe Paterno (and I'm doing so because Penn State won its first Big Ten title in eleven years, and not because I've been prompted by some e-mails from people who disagree with my prior sentiments). Those who read this blog regularly know that I have the ultimate respect for Coach Paterno, and that my differences for the most part rested with the lack of succession planning in State College and the fact that the question of Coach Paterno's retirement had taken on a life of its own. You can click here for my last post on the topic, which links to prior posts that will outline my thoughts on the subject (and reveals the comments that the post generated). If you read through all the posts, you'll note that I was hardly a Paterno basher. Anything but.

I give Joe Paterno a ton of credit on two fronts. First, he stood tall in the face of the doubters and continued with the same sense of professionalism that has made him what he is. Second, as if he had taken Kipling's "If" to heart, he allowed for the doubting of his detractors. Truth be told, Penn State football was in a rut. To argue otherwise would have been denial. Coach Paterno realized that his program had issues, and he didn't stubbornly continue to do things the way he had done say in 1983. Instead, he changed his offense, he lightened up with his players, he changed some coaches and he put the full-court press on in recruiting and came up with his best class in years. Instead of trying to justify how well his team had done (which would have been hard given the collective won-loss record over the five previous seasons), Coach Paterno responded with the type of effort that Penn State fans had come to know over the years.

It didn't take alumni or writers to prompt him into action. Hardly. And while I'll be the first to admit I called his continued tenure into question, I'd challenge everyone who is singing his praises today to be honest with themselves whether in their discourse with others over the past couple of years (and especially after last season) they too had not raised the same questions. The same way that 100,000 people told Wilt Chamberlain they were in Hershey, Pennsylvania the night that he scored 100 points against the Knicks, I'm sure there are no current Penn State fans or college football fans who doubted about whether Coach Paterno could continue to keep Penn State competitive. If you believe that. . .

It's great to see a program with the tradition of Penn State both on and off the gridiron excelling. It's nice to see the plain-vanilla uniforms return to prominence, Linebacker U. take center stage, and a football program with one of the top graduation rates qualify for a BCS Bowl. At the end of the day, that's what Penn State supporters and fans of true student-athletes really want to see. I, for one, had not watched New Year's weekend Bowl Games in recent years because of the absence of Penn State. It's not that I didn't appreciate good football, but if you're from the northeastern part of the country, you'll admit that we don't have the same intensity about college football as SEC fans do, nor have we enjoyed the same excellence in recent years. Penn State's resurgence this year wakes up perhaps as many if not more echoes than Charlie Weis's outstanding work at Notre Dame this year.

Suddenly, succession planning doesn't seem that much of a concern.

Last time I checked, Penn State alums were lobbying the state legislature to determine whether they would permit cloning in the Commonwealth.


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