restricted access 11. Shaping Reality: Saving Joe Paterno’s Legacy
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chapter 11 Shaping Reality Saving Joe Paterno’s Legacy “He is guilty of all the good he does not perform.” —Voltaire (1752) “Joe Paterno was an icon, but not a saint, really just a man.” —Anonymous (2012) With or without entry into the Big Ten, for many the legacy of Joe Paterno had been created by the 1970s and 1980s. Events in the 1990s and early twenty-first century would affect that legacy in Happy Valley and across the nation. Nevertheless , contradictions defined the character of the man who gave the face to Penn State and athletics. Paterno’s many actions, both positive and negative, influenced how people would judge the Grand Experiment and his place in Penn State and sport history. A case can be made that Paterno was one of the most important individuals in the history of Penn State, possibly next to George Washington Atherton , president from 1882 to 1906, who in many ways helped to save a struggling institution. One might consider what an individual wrote shortly after Paterno’s death in 2012: “Joe Paterno was an icon,” the unidentified person wrote, “but not a saint, really just a man.”1 Those contributions and faults formed Paterno’s legacy that came into play on a grand scale for Penn State and its athletics when the Sandusky Scandal broke in 2011. With entry into the Big Ten, there was a marked rise in the academic status of Penn State and stiffer competition on the athletic field. It is hard to argue with the proposition that Big Ten membership was more valuable academically than athletically, including the two most important sports, football and men’s basketball .2 Esteem in sport follows winning in American society, and Penn State won less often in the two major men’s sports after entry into the Big Ten. In the sixteen years prior to Big Ten admittance, Joe Paterno won nearly 80 percent of his games, but in the sixteen years of Big Ten competition his victory percentage was reduced to just over two-thirds. His image as a coach of winning teams and graduating players was established before the Big Ten entry, but the strong positive impression of Paterno as coach and as an individual remained nationally for Smith_text.indd 112 12/7/15 11:11 AM Shaping Reality: Saving Joe Paterno’s Legacy 113 the next two decades. Nevertheless, after joining the Big Ten, it was a struggle to try to approach the success he had previously achieved both academically and athletically. Of Paterno’s nineteen Top Ten rankings by the Associated Press, thirteen came prior to the Big Ten entry, including both national championships . Success of the Joe Paterno Grand Experiment was due mostly to the period prior to competition in the Big Ten—the rest of his life was in the pursuit of maintaining the legacy achieved earlier in his career. Winning would continue, with major bumps in the road, but Paterno’s legacy would be enhanced greatly by philanthropic work he and his wife, Suzanne, were involved in, particularly after Penn State’s Big Ten entry and into the twenty-first century. Other than the two national championships and 409 victories in football achieved by Joe Paterno, one of the greatest accomplishments was the number of postseason bowl wins that he achieved as head coach. He led the Nittany Lions to thirty-seven bowl games in his forty-six years as coach, and his record was a superior 24-12-1. Even more significant was winning three-quarters of twelve major bowl games. Paterno became the only coach to achieve victories in each of what were at one time the major bowl contests, Cotton, Orange, Rose, and Sugar Bowls. Only Frank Thomas of Alabama and William Alexander of Georgia Tech coached in the four major bowls, but both lost one of them. Being able to compete and be victorious in the Rose Bowl may have been a major goal of Paterno once Penn State entered the Big Ten and could then be invited to Pasadena. The 1995 Rose Bowl victory concluded the last of his five undefeated seasons.3 Paterno’s record of five undefeated teams ranked far behind several coaches in the twentieth century, such as Gil Dobie’s fourteen undefeated teams at the University of Washington and Cornell University and Fielding H. Yost’s nine at Michigan. Paterno’s record also was behind Frank Leahy’s seven undefeated teams at Boston College and Notre Dame...


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Subject Headings

  • Pennsylvania State University -- Sports.
  • Pennsylvania State University -- Football.
  • Paterno, Joe, 1926-2012.
  • Sandusky, Jerry.
  • Pennsylvania State University -- Sports -- Administration.
  • College sports -- Corrupt practices -- Pennsylvania -- University Park.
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