The following memoir was written by former Penn State quarterback Shane McGregor (Class of 2012) and is reproduced here with his permission. It was first published by Joe Paterno Charity Plaques, an organization that is selling plaques immortalizing Paterno’s final words to the team to benefit charity.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but it seems fitting that I put on a black shirt and black sweatpants when I rolled out of bed on that November morning. An emergency squad meeting had been called for 10 a.m. I knew it would be a funeral.
Not a funeral for a person, per say, but a funeral for a career. After 60 long years of life, Joe Paterno’s career as the Penn State head football coach was now on its deathbed. This harsh reality made what I heard when walking into that squad meeting, then, all that more remarkable.
I walked into the meeting solemnly, one of over a hundred coaches and players processing in, not noticing at first who was walking in right in front of me. It was Joe. Walking in beside him was our head trainer, George Salvaterra. Just before they got in the door, Joe turned toward George and I heard that familiar raspy voice speak. “When are ya getting married?” Next August, George said. The raspy voice spoke again: “Bet you’re excited about that…” His voice trailed off and I didn’t catch how the sentence ended, but Joe smiled, George chuckled, and I marveled. At a time when he had every reason to be worrying about himself, Joe Paterno took the time to think about a friend.
I wish I could tell you that the clouds parted, the sun came out, and the death of the career was whisked away, forever to be forgotten. But that just wouldn’t be true. The team convened, and Joe took his iconic podium for the final time. He took it slow, did his best to dodge the deluge of his emotions, and delivered a message that few in attendance will ever forget.
“Sixty years, we’ve tried to play good football, be good students, good leaders, good fathers…. I’ve gotten credit for things that I didn’t deserve and taken blame for too many things…. Precious things get taken away from you.” He trudged on, eulogizing his own life’s work in front of a most captivated audience. “I hope, I hope, I hope we can forever be teammates… Not just now, or next year… But forever.”
He finished with his final words — words you’ll find immortalized on these plaques– and left the room to a thunderous standing ovation. And it was there, in the worst of times, that an unexpected feeling hit me. Red-eyes sadness and choked-up words enveloped the room, yet I couldn’t help but feel a seemingly out-of-place emotion: a small smile. My gosh, I marveled again, he really did it. Here, in his final message to his team, the man who studied The Aeneid in high school delivered an oration that would make even Virgil proud: one about sacrifice, teamwork and friendship. One that would live in the hearts of its listeners forever.