Learning Tradition from My Poppy
It’s no secret that Penn State is a university that prides itself on tradition, but tradition does not happen overnight. It takes years to build tradition. Most people today know about the Penn State tradition because of a family member who experienced it in the making.
For me, that family member was my grandfather, Ronnie Christ.
That name may not mean anything to younger readers today, but Ronnie Christ was synonymous with PSU football coverage in central Pennsylvania from 1968 to 2001, when he retired from his post at the Harrisburg Patriot-News.
Needless to say, my grandfather got to know JoePa pretty well over those 34 years.
By the time I came into the picture in 1990, my grandfather, or “Poppy” as I know him, had 22 years of knowledge pertaining to Penn State football. He also had many stories about the team’s wins and losses. He had even more stories about their fearless leader.
One of my favorite stories was a perfect example of Joe’s handling of the media. For some reason, Paterno was mad at Poppy and didn’t let him into the locker room that game. That was it. You don’t mess with Joe. Short and sweet. But, then again, those were also the days when Paterno would meet up with writers Friday night before the games and just talk (off the record, of course) over a few drinks. That is certainly an interesting relationship to have between a writer and one of their primary sources, and one that’s hard to imagine today.
Aside from the stories, my older brother and I received a lot of perks as a result of Poppy’s profession. Football games. Memorabilia. Press parking passes. And, a meeting with the man himself: Joe Paterno.
As a third grader living in Harrisburg, meeting Joe Paterno was intense. I had always considered Poppy a celebrity, but then I met the man who he frequently wrote about in his columns. Poppy’s adjectives and sentences were brought to life when I shook hands with Mr. Paterno.
Even though he’s been out of the business for some time, Poppy is still a part of my Penn State experience. When I’m home for a weekend and the Lions are away, my dad readies the basement for our ritualistic viewing of a Penn State football game. My mom prepares a dish with those much-desired Saturday football calories; my older brother throws on his best PSU jersey while my younger brother tunes the big screen to the correct channel; and before kickoff, Nana and Poppy come strolling through the door. While Nana starts to chat with my mom, the men help Poppy down the stairs and lead him to the best recliner. Many of us scream and yell during the game, alternately in frustration and triumph. We question and applaud Paterno’s calls, but Poppy just watches. He’s said plenty about the team and their coach over his lifetime.
Today my mind jumps to my family and their Penn State pride. I think this is fitting. To many of us Penn Staters, we feel as though we have lost a blood relative. Joe managed to break down the barriers and introduce the idea of the university as a family to the entire community.
So while our prayers and thoughts go out to the Paternos today, I also believe that many of us have some family members to thank for introducing us to Joe Paterno and the Penn State tradition. In honor of JoePa, I’m going to start with my grandfather.