|Joe Paterno and Wayne Hardin promote series.|
By Mike Gibson
Every death is an incredibly sad thing, but I can’t help but think Joe Paterno’s passing on Sunday was sadder than most.
Paterno was faced with reporting a repugnant crime, something none of us ever even think about, and he went to someone who was effectively the head of the Penn State police department.
I thought he did his duty.
He could have done more and, in retrospect, he would have done more.
I don’t think that should erase all of the wonderful things he did for Penn State in particular and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in general.
The true measure of a man is how many people whose lives he has touched in a positive way and I think Paterno more than met the measure.
I’ve never even been aware of a man who came into contact, directly or indirectly, through more Pennsylvanians than Joe Paterno.
My colleague at the Inquirer and fellow Temple News sports editor, Joe Juliano, often told me great stories of the “off-the-record” cocktail parties for Penn State beat writers. Paterno held them at his modest home a block or two away from Beaver Stadium. I wish I could tell you some of those stories, but off the record means off the record to me.
Even after the man’s death.
Paterno would have a cocktail or two and loosen up, giving the reporters a more human side of the legend.
When it comes to Temple, I have my own Paterno story.
As I young Temple fan, I read an anecdote that appeared, ironically enough, in a Bill Conlin column in in the Philadelphia Daily News about Temple signing a deal to play Penn State beginning in 1975.
“The guy who scheduled Temple must have been drunk,” Conlin quoted Paterno as saying, referring to the PSU athletic director at the time.
Who knows, maybe Conlin both picked up the quote at one of those cocktail parties and violated a confidence mentioning the exchange.
I have a strong suspicion both of the above are correct.
Either way, the remark stirred enough of my fuel that I wrote Paterno a letter (back in those days we wrote handwritten letters), detailing how improved Temple was and that the Owls would be a worthy foe.
Paterno wrote me a letter back, also handwritten, and admitted to the quote but said he was first against the idea but, upon refection, thought the series would be a “great gift to our wonderful Philadelphia alumni.”
(Originally, the plan was to play all of the games in Philadelphia but that changed when the first one ended in a 26-25 win for Penn State at Franklin Field in 1975.)
At the end of the letter, Paterno wrote:
“Good luck to Temple.”
I wish I had saved it but, to the best of my knowledge, it was in a shoe box I lost in one of my many moves since.
Later, while working at the Doylestown Intelligencer, I fielded a call every Thursday morning from Paterno to Terry Nau, the sports editor of the Intel at that time. Nau and Paterno were friends from State College, where Nau was sports editor of the defunct daily the Pennsylvania Mirror.
I was floored when he first called.
“Hold on, Mr. Paterno,” I said.
“Mike, it’s Joe,” Paterno said.
“OK, here’s Terry.”
On one of the calls, I mentioned to him that I wrote him a letter as a kid about the resumption of the Temple series and thanked him for his handwritten response.
He said he remembered. He might have just said that, but I chose to think he really did remember.
Love the guy, but always wanted to beat him just once to get back for the drunk comment.