JoePa’s Wins Restored: Through the Eyes of a Senior and Freshman
With Joe Paterno’s wins restored by the NCAA today (thanks to Jake Corman and Rob McCord), our writers reflected on their past three years from the perspective of a freshman and senior.
A Freshman’s Perspective
I remember when the news of Penn State’s sanctions broke. I was in my sophomore year in high school, and while I had no connection to the University, I followed the story because it seemed so surreal.
Even as a high school student in Bethlehem, Pa., I still knew the universal truth: Joe Paterno was as clean as could be, and the man was larger than life itself. When the news broke, it was unlike anything I, or many other people, had ever seen: his legacy came crashing down, and the winningest coach in Division 1 football’s story was now one filled with asterisks and blemishes.
Flash forward three years, and I am now a freshman in college. One of Penn State’s biggest appeals for me as well as most freshman, was still the football program. Sure, we wouldn’t be able to play in a bowl game until I was an upperclassman, but Beaver Stadium would still be packed and Penn State’s energy could never be taken away.
I remember where I was on Sept. 10 when I heard the news. I was walking through the upper levels of the HUB to return some technical equipment when I got a notification to my phone: the sanctions were lifted.
I also remember where I was on Dec. 27. Crowded around the TV at home with my family, watching Penn State’s first attempt to win a bowl game in three years. When Sam Ficken hit the walk-off extra point, clinching the Pinstripe Bowl and a winning season, something else was proven: the sanctions could not kill Penn State football.
And now, at 4 p.m. on Jan. 16, another wrong has been righted. Joe Paterno, who, even as I grew up unaffiliated with Dear Old State, was a figure to look up to in the world of sports — is once again the undisputed best coach in the history of college football. He has taken his rightful spot atop of the charts with 409 wins.
The first semester-plus-one-month of college has been a hell of a ride for my class. We came to Penn State with the sanctions on our minds. We were fully prepared to accept the dark cloud over our heads in the public eye when we said we support Penn State and Penn State football. Now, the cloud is mostly gone and the next six semesters are beginning to look like the Happy Valley of old. We have our scholarships back. We have our bowls back. And most importantly, we have our coach back, the figurehead of Penn State football, Joe Paterno, and his 409 wins.
While we weren’t around for the darkest times in Penn State history, the freshman class has arrived for the sunshine after the storm. It’s impossible to know what will happen in the next three years, but we should approach it the way Joe would have wanted us to. “Success with Honor,” indeed.
A Senior’s Perspective
Growing up in State College, my childhood was saturated by blue and white, Creamery ice cream, and Penn State football. Though not personally, I’d known JoePa my entire life — he’d always been “JoePa” to me. He was the face of Penn State, not only our coach but also our symbol of pride and honor. Perhaps this sounds lofty and illusionistic, but it’s true. Born and raised here, I was born to love Penn State, and was ready to finally attend the college that was in my backyard.
My time at Penn State was changed in an instant: after only a few months, and still a nervous, excited freshman, I witnessed Penn State’s largest scandal ever. My roommates and I crowded inside my North dorm room, crouched around our tiny TV, and watched the brunt of the Sandusky scandal descend over Happy Valley. All of us glued to our phones and laptops, we saw the news unfold, seeping into every conversation and text message, sparking downtown riots, and inciting remarks of sadness or anger.
It is impossible to describe the atmosphere of the campus in the months that followed. To say the University was in a state of shock does not do it justice, and any student who was here in the fall of 2011 can remember this sense of confusion, a community-wide insecurity that permeated the school. JoePa’s death shortly after only solidified this feeling, and the day of his funeral is one that is difficult to forget.
The sanctions and court cases that followed were all the media could focus on, and my semester breaks were spent reliving the events, answering over and over the ever-present, “What’s it like at Penn State, going through all of this?” Students were given documents that explained how to answer questions about Sandusky and JoePa, should they come up in job interviews. JoePa’s statue was taken down. The University’s reputation seemed perilously at stake.
Although we all progressed through the years, and the initial harshness of the events has slowly faded, the sanctions were a consistent backdrop. ESPN commentators would almost always mention the sanctions during televised games, as if they were something that could not be separated from the university itself. The sanctions affected not only Penn State, but its future, withdrawing scholarships and bowl presence.
When JoePa had opened his home’s door to the onslaught of protestors and supporters on the night of his firing, his only response was that everyone should go to bed, because we had class to go to the next morning. It was hard to stay focused, in the aftermath of it all, but college carried on, and so did we for the past three years.
When the sanctions were lifted last semester, it was like this enormous fog of tension and confusion cleared, if only a little bit. With each bit of new information about the NCAA and the shady inner-workings of the scandal, the fog has continued to clear, more and more — and here we are today.
In my four years attending Penn State, I have experienced three head football coaches and three University presidents. I have watched our football team lose its head coach, lose its bowl opportunities — and three years later, I lost my voice cheering in the stands of Yankee Stadium as our boys won the Pinstripe Bowl.
My freshman year, I stopped watching the news and carefully scrolled through online posts, nervous to read any articles about Penn State, unsure of how we stood in the eye of the public. Now, I am proud to remind everyone I am a Penn Stater, excited when we make waves for our accomplishments, and quick to defend our legacy.
JoePa was our football coach, but he was a symbol of Penn State. His lost wins marked our University as changed and downtrodden, something that had been renounced. To all of the seniors today, who watched Penn State fall when we had just arrived, and who have been seated front row to witness its slow, but sure progress back to the top — we made it through. We are proud, we are excited, and we are still here. For the Glory.
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About the Author
Brian Lewerke’s 25-yard touchdown pass with 19 seconds left sunk the Nittany Lions on Homecoming.
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