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The Real Joe Paterno by Rick Reilly

In Joe Paterno on January 26, 2012 at 1:11 pm

Paterno & Taliaferro Joe Hermitt/The Patriot-NewsAdam Taliaferro and Joe Paterno in 2010, 10 years after the player and coach had formed a strong bond in the wake of Taliaferro’s horrifying spinal cord injury.
THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN BY RICK REILLY AND APPEARED ON ESPN.COM. It’s another great JoePa article that I wanted to share. Also, the photo above was provided by Joe Hermitt of The Patriot News. I’m only sharing and had nothing to do with writing the article.
 
 

 Maybe you will never be convinced Joe Paterno was a good man who made one catastrophic mistake, but do you have time for just one story? In 2000, Penn State freshman defensive back Adam Taliaferro had his spine crushed when tackling an Ohio State player. He lay on that September field paralyzed and panicked. The first person he saw when he opened his eyes was Paterno, who died Sunday at 85. “He could see I was losing it, but his eyes stayed totally calm,” Taliaferro remembers. “And I remember that familiar, high-pitched voice, going, ‘You’re gonna get through this, Kid. You’re gonna be OK.’ And I just trusted him. I believed it.” Taliaferro wound up in a hospital bed in Philadelphia, everything frozen solid below the neck. Doctors said he had about a 3 percent chance of walking again. And every other week, Paterno would fly to Philly to see him. “He’d bring our trainer and a couple of my teammates,” Taliaferro says. “Nobody in the hospital knew he was there.” Paterno would tell him all the dumb things his teammates and coaches had done lately. Pretty soon, Taliaferro would be laughing his IVs out. “I can’t tell you what that meant to me,” says Taliaferro, now 30. “I’m stuck in that hospital, and here’s Coach Paterno bringing a piece of the team to me, in the middle of the season. How many coaches would do that?” 

One midnight, Taliaferro moved a toe and the first person his dad called was Paterno. His dad held the phone to Adam’s ear and Paterno said, “You’re gonna prove ’em all wrong, Kid!”  From then on, every visit, Paterno wanted to see Taliaferro move something new. “I got to where I wanted to be ready. A finger, a hand, whatever. I wanted to perform for Coach Paterno.” One day, five months into it, Paterno walked in and said, “What’s new, Kid?” Taliaferro swung his legs over the bed, stood and extended his hand to shake. “I’ll never forget his eyes,” he says. “They were already huge behind those Coke-bottle glasses, but they got even bigger.” Paterno gave him a 10-second hug and then said, “Kid, ya make me proud.” 

A man is more than his failings.

 I learned a lot about Paterno when I wrote a story about him in 1986 for Sports Illustrated. I’ve learned a lot about him since. He was a humble, funny and giving man who was unlike any other coach I ever met in college football. He rolled up his pants to save on dry cleaning bills. He lived in the same simple ranch house for the last 45 years. Same glasses, same wife, same job, for most of his adult life. He was a man who had two national championships, five undefeated seasons, and yet for years he drove a white Ford Tempo. In 46 years as a head coach, he never had a single major NCAA violation. He was the only coach I’ve ever known who went to the board of trustees to demand they increase entrance requirements, who went to faculty club meetings to hear the lectures, who listened to opera while drawing up game plans. He was a Depression kid who wouldn’t allow stars on helmets or names on jerseys. And he hated expensive tennis shoes. He’d see a player wearing Air Jordans and say, “It’s not the sneakers, Kid, it’s the person in them.” One day Taliaferro wore an entirely different pair into his office, a pair of “Air Paternos” he’d made himself. “He freaked out,” Taliaferro remembers. “He was about to call Nike. He thought they were real!”

Paterno Nikes

Courtesy of Adam Taliaferro
 
As a gag, Taliaferro made these sneakers to show Paterno. They represented everything the coach did not stand for.

If a player was struggling with a subject, Paterno would make him come to his house for wife Sue’s homemade pasta and her tutoring. One time, he told a high school blue chipper named Bob White he wouldn’t recruit him unless he agreed to read 12 novels and turn in two-page book reports to Sue. They were the first books he ever finished. White wound up with two degrees and a job at the university.Paterno was other things, too, like controlling and immovable. He lingered as head coach when he promised time and again he wouldn’t. And when he needed to follow up on what he’d been told about Jerry Sandusky and a child in the shower in 2002, he failed miserably.

 But he followed up for thousands of others.

 Even though Taliaferro would never play football again, Paterno stayed on him to keep moving. “I came to Penn State to become a lawyer,” he told him. “But I never made it. You could, Kid. You’re smart.” He got the fully recovered Taliaferro a summer internship with the NFLPA in New York and, before you knew it, Taliaferro was a corporate lawyer in Cherry Hill, N.J. He successfully ran for local office there and is now running for the Penn State board of trustees, where he wants to help his school heal from a scandal Paterno made worse with his neglect.

 “The last three months, I’ve just wanted to go up on a rooftop and shout, ‘I wish you knew him like I do!'” Taliaferro says. “I know, in my heart, if he’d understood how serious this situation was, he’d have done more.”  I believe that, too. But if you don’t, I respect that. I only ask this: If we’re so able to vividly remember the worst a man did, can’t we also remember the best?


Follow Rick on Twitter @ReillyRick

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My JoePa Story – WE ARE PENN STATE!!!

In Joe Paterno on January 22, 2012 at 11:47 am

 I’m very saddened by the turn of events in Coach Joe Paterno’s health. This is such a sad day for all Penn State fans and followers. At the time I was living and coaching high school football in Florida. I had the opportunity to meet coach for the first time in 1994 when I took my first player to the Penn State football camp through Tom Bradley, who has become a friend over all these years. A few years later I had the opportunity to take my son, Billy Furman, and his friend Greg Adkins into the football building and have a picture taken with Coach that I later got signed and have cherished. I remember the day like it was yesterday. I was going to take the picture of Billy, Greg and Coach when Joe said to me, “Coach, do you want to get in the picture?” Of course I did, so he had a staff member take the picture so that I could be in it too. What a great moment! (I have the photo posted on my Facebook page, Philly Pressbox). I had the opportunity to meet Coach several other times over the years but the most exciting time was actually over the phone. It was 2001 and Penn State was again recruiting one of our players, Wayne Dickens, who ended up going to Auburn. Wayne was being recruited by Bob White and Larry Johnson and Bob had called me at my office to check on Wayne’s recruiting status. At that time Bob said, hang on a second Coach wants to talk to you. I proceeded to talk to Coach Paterno for 15 minutes. During that time we talked about everything except for football for the first 13 minutes. He wanted to know how my family was doing, how it was in Florida and of course how the weather was. We spent the last 2 minutes talking about Wayne and his recruitment to Penn State. It was a great time to be talking to someone who you think you’ll never have an opportunity to actually feel like you’re spending time with other than a handshake. I only met Coach once after that but those memories will never be forgotten.

The two other things I will remember most about the impact Coach Paterno had on me was the people who I met that were directly impacted by Coach. The first year I went to the camp I took one of our players, Keydrick Vincent, to the camp. Keydrick was 6’5” and 340 lbs at the time so obviously you could see him. He ended up going to Ole Miss and playing in the NFL for 10 seasons. When we were on the small plane between State College and Pittsburgh on the way back Matt Suhey was on that plane. When we got to Pittsburgh Matt waiting for us to get off the plane and spoke to us for 10 minutes. He spoke about his PSU experience and about his experience with the Bears and playing in the same backfield with Walter Payton. When Matt walked away I remember Keydrick saying, “Oh my God that was Matt Suhey of the Bears and he’s the coolest guy I ever met”. Talk about impact on an 18-year-old. I know Keydrick never forgot it through his years in the NFL. I also have had a chance to meet John Cappelletti on various occasions. Cappy is always talking about the values he learned from Coach and PSU. I’ve become friends with Adam Taliaferro over the last few years. Most people know Adam’s story but don’t know the person. Adam credits Coach Paterno, his parents and Penn State University for his success as an attorney and involvement in many charitable groups. Adam wants to and is going to make a difference in people’s lives. The list goes on and on but I think the way the PSU football staff handled themselves says all that needs to be said. Anything less than be a first class professional when dealing with high school coaches and players was unacceptable. Coat and tie when visiting high schools was mandatory but the actions and the impression about what to expect academically and in college life was put ahead of what to expect on the football field. The final impact that I feel is the actions of the PSU fans either at home or on the road. There is nothing like a road trip to Beaver Stadium for a football game with all out tailgating. It’s an event like no other. If you’ve never been part of it you have no idea what you’re missing. Visitors can come to Happy Valley, walk College Avenue and go to any local establishment and know they’re going to have a good time and not have to worry about the actions of fans. When the massive Penn State road show heads out everyone knows they’ll be first class fans. It is all a part of the foundation that was laid by Coach Paterno as he built the football program and the university over 45 years as head football coach.

Coach proved that the Grand Experiment can work. Quality athletes can be great people as well as great athletes. Many have become very successful in their personal lives outside of football because they were good students who were held to academic standards like every other student. Coach Paterno led the charge that made 10’s of thousands proud to say “WE ARE PENN STATE”.

Last on this list but surely the reason he was able to build the program he has is his 409 career wins, more than any other major college football coach. Coach really didn’t care about all of records. As far as he was concerned it was important to him how it affected his players and his coaches and fans. Being able to brag that you were a Nittany Lions fan was a special place to be. Whether you were in Gator Country, Seminole Country, Alabama, Tennessee or anywhere else in the country a PSU conversation always led to every fans respect for Joe Paterno as a great coach and a great person who coached college football the right way.

Coach, you will be missed by all of Penn State fans and all fans around the country.

FOR THE GLORY!!

WE ARE…….PENN STATE!!!!

Penn State All Time Football Team – Part 4

In Penn State All Time Team, Penn State Football on January 13, 2012 at 8:06 am

PART 4– Now that the Joe Paterno era of Penn State football has officially ended I wanted to have some fun and come up with my All Time Joe Paterno Penn State football team. There was actually a lot of thought that went in to this. I did a good bit of statistical research, used my long memory of Penn State football games and seasons gone bye and of course a lot of my opinion. I also tried to base my picks on their Penn State career and not their NFL career which leaves a few NFL Hall of Famers off the 1st Team. Please feel free to leave your comments. All positions can easily be disputed since there have been many great players to come through Happy Valley. I’ve even taken the liberty to add a few extra players because I couldn’t split the hair on who to pick. It was tough enough as it was. Part 1, I will pick the Offensive Line (5) and TE (1). Part 2, I will pick the WR (3) and QB (1). Part 3 I will pick the RB (3) and it was tough. Part 4 the DL (4), and DB’s (4) and Part 5 I will pick the LB’s (4), it was impossible and I may still change my mind at the last second, the kicker (1) and punter (1).  I’ve added a 2nd Team and an Honorable Mention list.

LET THE ARGUMENTS BEGIN!!!!

I have selected 4 DEFENSIVE LINEMEN on my 1st Team. I actually found this to be the easiest group to pick. Here you go:

Courtney Brown – 1st Team All American (‘99). Courtney won the Nagurski, Bednarik and Lombardi Awards as well as being named Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year. He ranks #1 in career sacks with 33 and career tackles for loss with 70. He was unblockable. Brown was the 1st selection in the 2000 draft by the Cleveland Browns. He played in the NFL from 2000-2006.

Bruce Clark – 2-Time 1st Team All American (‘78 &’79) Bruce was the first junior to win the Lombardi Award as the top defensive lineman in the country. He finished 8th in career sacks with 19 and 4th in career tackles for losses. Clark was drafted in the 1st round of the NFL draft by the Green Bay Packers but never played for them. He played in the CFL, NFL and WFL from 1980-1991.

Mike Reid – 1st Team All American (‘69). Elected to the College Football Hall of Fame. Reid won the Outland Trophy and Maxwell Trophy in 1969. Mike holds the PSU record of recording 3 safeties in a game, season and career. He received the Walter Camp “Alumnus of the Year” award in 1987. In 1995, he received the NCAA Silver Anniversary Award. Reid was a 1st round draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals. He played in the NFL from 1970-74. He played in 2 Pro Bowls.

Devon Still – 1st Team All American (‘11). Still just completed his Penn State career by making every 1st team All American team and being selected Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year.

2nd Team:

Matt Millen –1st Team All American (‘79). Millen played on the same defensive line as Bruce Clark. Matt ranks #5 in career sacks with 22. Millen was drafted in the 2st round of the NFL draft by the Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders. He was a linebacker in the NFL. He played in the NFL from 1980-1991. Matt was named All Pro 2 times and won 4 Super Bowl rings as a player.

Larry Kubin – Larry made sacks fashionable before they were as a defensive end. He recorded 30 in his PSU career second to Courtney Brown. Kubin was a 6st round draft pick of the Washington Redskins. He played in the NFL from 1981-1985. He earned 2 Super Bowl rings.

Steve Smear – 2nd Team All American (‘68). Smear teamed with Mike Reid on the D-Line helping make up the first of the great PSU defenses of the Paterno era. Steve was drafted in the 4th round by the Baltimore Colts but played instead in the CFL from 1970-75.

Randy Crowder – 1st Team All American (’73). Crowder anchored the defensive line for the undefeated team. He was a 6th round draft pick of the Miami Dolphins and played in the NFL from 1974-1980.

Honorable Mention:

Mike Hartenstein, Walker Lee Ashley, Tamba Hali, Tim Johnson, Randy Sidler, Lou Benfatti, Anthony Adams, Jimmy Kennedy, Aaron Maybin, Bob White,  Brad Scioli, Jared Odrick, Justin Kurpeikis, Michael Haynes, Jay Alford

I have selected 4 DEFENSIVE BACKS on my 1st Team. Here they are:

Neil Smith – 1st Team All American (’69). Neil still holds the PSU record for career interceptions with 19. He shares the single season interception record along with Pete Harris.

Pete Harris – 1st Team All American (’78). Pete shares the single season interception record with Neil Smith.

Mark Robinson – 1st Team All American (’82). Mark was the leader of a strong group of DB’s that won the 1982 National Championship and Sugar Bowl. He was a 4th round draft pick of the Kansas City Chiefs. He played in the NFL from 1984-1993.

Darren Perry – 1st Team All American (’91). Perry’s 299 interception return yards and three interceptions for touchdowns are school records. He was an 8th round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers and played in the NFL from 1992-2000. He was selected All Pro in 1994.

2nd TEAM:

Ray Isom – An anchor of the ’86 defensive back field that won the National Championship and beat up the Miami Hurricanes in the Fiesta Bowl. Isom, as the free safety, led the hitting.

Bryan Scott – Three-year starter at Penn State, playing in all 48 career games, and finished his career with 202 tackles, five interceptions. He was a 2nd round pick of the Atlanta Falcons in 2003. He is still playing in the NFL.

Mike Zordich – 1st Team All American (‘85). A 4 year letterman at PSU who finished his career with 201 tackles. Mike was known for his toughness and hard hitting. He was drafted in the 9th round by the San Diego Chargers. He never played for them but played for the Jets, Cardinals and Eagles from 1987-1998.

Kim Herring – 1st Team All American (’96). Kim was a 2nd round draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens. He played in the NFL from 1997-2005. He won a Super Bowl ring with the Ravens.

HONORABLE MENTION:

Harry Hamilton, Tony Pittman, Shawn Mayer, Alan Zemaitis, Paul Lankford, Leonard Humphries, Shelly Hammonds, David Macklin, James Boyd, Bhawoh Jue, Calvin Lowry, Justin King, Anthony Scirrotto

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