On Sunday morning the sports world started the day looking forward to the AFC and NFC Championship games. By mid-morning Mount Nittany Medical Center, State College in Pennsylvania informed the nation that Joe Paterno had succumbed to lung cancer at 9:25 a.m. EST. The man affectionately nicknamed JoePa surrounded by family stated that he “died as he lived.”
“He fought hard until the end, stayed positive, thought only of others and constantly reminded everyone of how blessed his life had been,” Paterno’s family said in a statement. “His ambitions were far reaching, but he never believed he had to leave this Happy Valley to achieve them. He was a man devoted to his family, his university, his players and his community.”
Joseph Vincent Paterno was born December 21, 1926 in Brooklyn, New York. He was the first-born son of second-generation Italian immigrants. After serving a year in the Army he attended Brown University where he played quarterback and cornerback. As a defensive back he set a school record with 14 interceptions (that still stands) and as the signal caller led the team to an 8-1 record as a senior. He was coached by Rip Engle and followed him to Penn State in 1950. JoePa served as an assistant from 1950-1965. Engle retired in 1965 and Paterno was named his successor to start the 1966 season.
Paterno had a rough start as the head coach losing three of his first five games. His first team finished 5-5 that season. He opened the 1967 season with a loss to Navy. After a loss on October 7 to UCLA that year, Penn State won their next 31 consecutive games. He wouldn’t look back. Paterno’s head coaching career at Penn State spanned the administrations of nine U.S. presidents. He visited several presidents at the White House and later had words with President Nixon stating “I’d like to know, how could the president know so little about Watergate in 1973 and know so much about college football in 1969?” Nixon had declared Texas the national champion in 1969 following their victory over Arkansas in “The Game of the Century.” Penn State went 11-0 that season.
During Joe Paterno’s coaching career, he coached 701 games and only missed three games. That tied him with Amos Alonzo Stagg for first all-time with 548 appearances as a head coach. On October 29, 2011 Penn State defeated Illinois 10-7 for his 409th win setting another Division 1 record. Paterno led the Nittany Lions to five undefeated seasons, won two national championships (1982, 1986), won three Big Ten titles (1994, 2005, 2008) and 37 bowl appearances with 24 bowl wins (another record). More than 250 of the players he coached went on to play in the NFL.
Current Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer summed it up best when speaking of Joe Paterno when he said, “He will go down as the greatest football coach in the history of the game.” Paterno built his program on the credo “Success with Honor,” and he found both.
Rest in Peace JoePa…
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916 Games and counting…