The tainting of JoePa’s legacy

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How do you define a man who for 60-plus years has been an institution bigger in some respects than the institution of higher learning that employs him?  Prior to last Friday, summing up what Joe Paterno meant to the isolated, idyllic Penn State campus would’ve been easy: everything.

Now, the answer is much more muddled, much more tainted.

JoePa, as he’s affectionately known, is the first man most people think of when they hear Penn State, a reaction that will likely continue long after the shock of his retirement Wednesday subsides.  As football programs around the country faced off-field scandal after scandal spanning multiple decades, Paterno was the moral compass Nittany Lion Nation — hell, college football as a whole — knew they could count on to never lead them astray even as the sport was seemingly hurtling toward some sort of gridiron Sodom and Gomorrah.  When it came to that program, you knew what you were going to get: players clad in beautifully-bland uniforms being led by a man girded with impeccable character and straight-out-of-the-fifties glasses.  And a moral fiber that was above reproach.

It wasn’t just Penn State football that has been Joe Paterno since Lyndon Johnson was sitting in the Oval Office.  Penn State, the university, has been Joe Paterno.

After what’s transpired the past five days, the facade of integrity that took more than a half-century to build has been shattered and perhaps irreparably damaged by the child-sex abuse scandal that’s saddened and sickened even the most hardened of observers.  The memories of a program that did things the right way led by a man who ensured things were done the right way?  Replaced to a large degree by the horrifying images contained in the grand jury’s 40-count indictment of Jerry Sandusky, the former Paterno assistant who was once among the coach’s most trusted lieutenants.

Merriam-Webster defines the word “legacy” as “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past.”  On paper, what he’s leaving behind is undeniable and untouchable: 409 wins, the most in Div. 1 history, as well as two national championships and multiple coach-of-the-year awards.  One of just a handful of BcS conference schools — Stanford, Northwestern and Boston College being the others — to never have been found guilty of a major violation in football.  Consistently graduating a higher percentage of his football players than the vast majority of football programs around the country.

That’s a black-and-white football legacy likely never to be equaled.  The gray area outside of anything that can be measured statistically, the DNA that makes up one’s moral fiber?  That gray area as it pertains to Paterno is a moving target, hard to grasp in the immediacy of a moment with still many more questions than answers.

The gruesome details have been repeated ad nauseam since their release late last week, but the singular question remains: why didn’t Coach Paterno go to the authorities when it became clear the administration was going to sweep under the rug the allegations of on-campus sodomizing witnessed by one his grad assistants and perpetrated by his former heir apparent?  And this isn’t about using the power Paterno had built over the decades to run roughshod over the legal system and play judge, jury and executioner.  This is about the moral responsibility of a human being, about a man — one who dedicated his life to raising up and protecting kids entrusted to him — failing miserably when the opportunity to protect even younger, more defenseless kids arose by doing nothing more than the bare minimum required under the law.

With authority comes responsibility.  With responsibility comes accountability.  Of all the times Paterno failed to win on a football field, his failure to live up to everything he preached for over the years– holding himself, his players and his program to a higher standard — is his biggest loss, his biggest failing.  The accountability that was a bedrock of the man was lost, as was the innocence of any subsequent victims.  He failed everything he stood for when he sat down and did nothing more than what was sufficient in the eyes of the law.

With the 20/20 hindsight available even at his advanced age, Paterno can see how miserably he, and undoubtedly many others, failed those children.

“It is one of the great sorrows of my life… I wish I had done more,” a portion of Paterno’s retirement announcement read.

The failure is not Paterno’s alone, certainly.  The laundry list of Penn State officials and those associated with Sandusky’s children’s charity who could’ve done something, anything to prevent further victims from the tentacles of an alleged pedophile is sickening in its length, and those people should be relieved of their duties as well.  That doesn’t, however, absolve Paterno of the culpability for his inaction.  It’s an embarrassing stain on an otherwise impeccable record both on and off the field that won’t, and shouldn’t, be forgotten.

Certainly all the good he’s done for the players he calls “his kids” cannot be erased, nor can all he’s done for the community or the sport be minimized or tossed to the side.  And certainly there’s far, far more good deeds in the numerical sense than bad, even as the bad as we currently know it reaped unimaginable consequences for numerous innocent children and outweighs in the minds of some any good for which he’s directly responsible.

Joe Paterno, the football coach, and Joe Paterno, the man, have always been intertwined, walking in lockstep as the model of what amateur athletics on and off the field should be.  Right or wrong, the scandal that ultimately forced the ouster of a coaching legend is part of his legacy forevermore; how big a part of his legacy is up to the writer or reader of the whole of the narrative.

For me, it’s merely a reminder that human beings, great and small, are fallible.  Even, and especially, those that cast as large of a shadow as Coach Paterno.

Unfortunately for JoePa, and much more so for the victim at the time and those that came after, the fallibility that surfaced in 2002 had unintended but nonetheless tragic consequences.  That’s something Coach Paterno will have to live with for however many more years God grants him on this earth.

And that is a hell of a lot more damaging and painful to a man with not many breaths left than any rewrite of his legacy could ever be.

Charles Woodson: Michigan isn’t putting emphasis on Ohio State game like they should

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Since retiring from the NFL, Charles Woodson has become increasingly vocal about his alma mater. Not only has the Michigan alum shouted out his love for the Wolverines, he’s also not shy in calling out the team after a few years of sub-par results — particularly when it comes to the game against their heated rival Ohio State.

You can add another chapter for Woodson in that matter over the weekend as the Heisman Trophy winner did not mince words in calling out how ‘The Game’ is being treated by some in Ann Arbor.

“You know what, to be quite honest, I really feel like in recent years there hasn’t been the emphasis I’m used to being put on that game,” Woodson told the Detroit Free Press on Saturday. “Every game has been put on the same level as that game. That’s not the way we were brought up. Not the way we were raised around here.

“We had no shame in saying (we were going to beat Ohio State). And every time I watch our teams in recent years, it’s ‘oh, it’s another game.’ It’s not.”

Woodson has already guaranteed a victory over the Buckeyes this spring at a commencement speech he gave to UM graduates and has been vocal about the program getting back to the position he had it in back in the late 1990’s when they were winning titles and — most importantly — beating Ohio State. The Wolverines have never beaten Urban Meyer since he arrived in Columbus and have just two wins in the series in the past 15 tries. Jim Harbaugh, who is certainly familiar with beating OSU as a player, is 0-3 against the Buckeyes as head coach.

It goes without saying that the team is very much aware of the current six-game losing streak they have against their chief rival and, given everything that has gone on this offseason, could be in their best position in years to get a win when the two meet in Columbus this November. However, Woodson might be getting a text message or phone call from Harbaugh to tone down the rhetoric just a tad given that he’s writing a check the players will have to cash.

Certainly everybody in Ann Arbor knows how big ‘The Game’ is to the school and will be emphasizing a win this year more than ever even without the extra push from one of the all-time greats in maize and blue.

WATCH: Paralyzed Georgetown football player walks across the stage at graduation

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You probably have never heard of TY Williams the football player but what the former Georgetown linebacker did this weekend at the school will surely bring a tear to your eyes.

Williams injured his spinal cord in a game back in September 2015 and suffered a fractured vertebra that left him partially paralyzed. Despite that, he followed up years of rehab on the injury to walk across the stage at the Hoyas’ graduation ceremony on Saturday to receive his degree from the university.

Boy, it sure is a little dusty up in here after watching that. Congrats to Williams and his family on an incredible achievement.

Ohio State led nation for total fan attendance in 2017, Michigan tops in average attendance at home

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In some not exactly breaking news, there are a lot of Ohio State fans out there. Not to be left out, their rivals to the North have quite a few people following the team in maize and blue too.

The National Football Foundation released an interesting set of facts and figures last week that was designed to call attention to just how popular the sport of college football is across the country. The whole list is worth a look if you’re interested in all the little details about the 2017 season but a few of the big highlights are:

  • Ohio State led the nation for total fan attendance, attracting 1,254,160 spectators to all of their games in 2017, including home, away, neutral and postseason tilts. Eleven other teams eclipsed the million mark in 2017: Georgia (1,246,201), Alabama (1,228,376), Auburn, Penn State, Michigan, LSU, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Clemson and Texas.
  • Michigan led all FBS schools again with an average attendance of 111,589 fans per home game in 2017. Three other schools also averaged more than 100,000 fans per game: Ohio State (107,495), Penn State (106,707) and Alabama (101,722). The Wolverines have led the nation in home attendance for 41 of the past 43 seasons.
  • The SEC led all FBS conferences in attendance for the 20th straight year, averaging 75,074 fans per game or a total of 7,357,228 in 2017, followed by the Big Ten (66,227), Big 12 (56,852), Pac-12 (49,601) and the ACC (48,442).
  • The overall attendance for NCAA football games across all divisions (FBS, FCS, Division II and Division III) drew 47,622,196 fans at home games, neutral-site games and postseason games in 2017. The number represents a 3.3 percent drop from the 2016 season.

There’s a bunch more in there from the NFF on everything from TV ratings to fan interest and a bunch of other nuggets. Needless to say, college football is pretty popular around the country and we at CFTalk certainly wouldn’t have it any other way.

Andrew Ward becomes latest Nebraska player to announce plans to transfer

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Everybody figured that Scott Frost’s arrival with a new way of doing things in Lincoln would prompt a few transfers out of the program but the latest name to leave Nebraska is on the defensive side of the ball as linebacker Andrew Ward became the latest name to announce a transfer after just a year with the Cornhuskers.

As Ward mentions in his post, he was originally recruited to the school by the prior coaching staff under Mike Riley. He redshirted as a freshman in 2017 and seemed to fall down the pecking order at his position during spring practice. Originally from Michigan, the linebacker was rated as a three-star coming out of high school according to 247Sports and held offers from Penn State and Virginia Tech among others.

Ward adds to the growing list of roster turnover this offseason for the Cornhuskers. Also on Saturday it was confirmed that center Michael Decker was retiring from football, while wideout Kenyan Williams, fullback Ben Miles, quarterback Patrick O’Brien, and receiver Zack Darlington all announced intentions to leave the program.