Imagine a college football player with a promising career as he points to the stands and lets everyone know that he'll be back, paying no regard to his leg that is hanging off the cart as he's being driven off the field. Everyone but him knows his hopes of becoming an NFL player have just been destroyed in one swift moment.
Such was the case with Joe Paterno the past eight months. On Sunday morning as officials draped the head of the Paterno statue with a blanket so as not to let the statue know where they were taking him, JoePa's one finger remained extended in the air. Almost as if he stuck his arm out of the blanket to give one final, "I'll be fine."
Everyone, but the statue -- and the throngs of fans who continue to litter the only living and visible piece of the Penn State legacy with flowers and other memorabilia-- realize the statue -- much like the Penn State football program as we know it -- won't be back. Not anytime soon. Closer to never than later.
It's a bit high-minded for college football fans of another team to say they don't understand why Penn State fans are so bent out of shape. Imagine this THEORETICAL and COMPLETELY UNTRUE AS FAR AS WE KNOW scenario. On October 4, 2012, Alabama Athletics Director Mal Moore holds a press conference to announce his retirement. In this oddly-timed retirement speech Moore admits that he's retiring due to the guilt that has been eating away at him for decades and he can't hold it in any longer in the wake of the Penn State fiasco. Moore, with tears falling to the table as his face looks downward, says, "It is with much regret that I admit that I was aware of child molestation that took place in the 1970s in our athletic department when Coach Bryant was here in the 1970s. I told Coach Bryant we should go forward and tell everyone what this assistant coach was doing, but Bryant said we need to handle it internally." What Coach Bryant said, went. Moore said he would never go against Bryant, so he dropped it right there. Moore states that he looked into the situation more and found out that this coach had been doing this for years, but no one wanted to hurt the program, so Coach Bryant demanded that the coach stop molesting children. And that was the last time anyone spoke of it.
Moore breaks down, sobbing uncontrollably and the press conference ends.
Alabama fans everywhere are in absolute nuclear meltdown. Chernobyl blushes. Some fans are livid that Mal Moore would sell the program out like that since the 'Tide no longer needed to bask in these glory days of the '70s. Things were great now. Why talk now? Besides, the Bear would never allow that. To this throng of 'Bama fans, it's amazing what the Bear would and wouldn't do in any situation over the course of history. Even in moments that Bryant wouldn't find himself in -- Jesus' death or Chernobyl -- these 'Bama fans apply the WWBD (What Would Bear Do) principle.
Most fans -- the ones that no one would see or hear from in the media -- are livid that the man they revered and all but worshipped would allow something this evil to occur. They feel that all the years they spent following Alabama football and living and dying with the program were in vain. Not just a few months or a couple of years, but a lifetime. The love for 'Bama that their fathers and grandfathers took to the grave with them was in vain. The one fantasy world that could provide shelter from the ugly realities that the state of Alabama had always carried on its back had just been ripped to shreds and the waters of reality flooded in at a deadly rate. All those years of watching the 'Tide on a Saturday, talking about the Iron Bowl in the middle March, losing sleep over big wins and heartbreaking losses -- they were all a waste. The program is dead. The curtain that appeared to be hiding a larger-than-life enigma had been pulled back to reveal a feeble old man plucking away to uphold the image that Alabama football is everything you believed it to be.
Thus is the logical Penn State fan -- the Penn State fan the media refuses to allow the public to see or hear. He/she comes to the realization that as strong as JoePa's Coke bottle glasses were, they weren't strong enough to prevent him from being blinded by the bright lights of the Penn State program. Possibly even blinded by his own name and success.
The sad little old man that was behind the curtain pushing the buttons to uphold the image that Penn State football was everything you believed it to be has died yet again. His first death came when, in one swift week in November, he was fired as head coach of a team that he had been apart of for 60 years (NBC became a television network five years before Paterno joined the PSU coaching staff). Within two months of that tumultous week, JoePa was dead. Within another six months, he went from an elderly and sympathetic figure in a horrible story to a despised national villian.
His final Voldemort-like horcrux was removed from outside Beaver Stadium yesterday. The final rock on the mountain of denial on which his most loyal supporters were clinging was ripped from their grasp. They now fall with the Penn State program. It's a long fall and there's nothing guaranteeing them that they will ever land.
The NCAA just announced that Penn State football will lose 40 scholarships over four years. Any player can transfer at any time over the next four years as well. In essense, rather than the death penalty, the NCAA just amputated every limb from the body of the Penn State football program.
JoePa didn't go to the grave alone. He took an entire football program and generations of Penn State football fans with him.
R.I.P. Penn State Football
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