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Family, football meant everything to Joe Paterno
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Sandusky, who has maintained his innocence, lauded his former boss in a statement that said: “He maintained a high standard in a very difficult profession. Joe preached toughness, hard work and clean competition. Most importantly, he had the courage to practice what he preached.”
Paterno certainly had detractors. One former Penn State professor called his high-minded words on academics a farce, and a former administrator said players often got special treatment. His coaching style often was considered too conservative. Some thought he held on to his job too long, and a move to push him out in 2004 failed.
But the critics were in the minority, and his program was never cited for major NCAA violations. The child sex abuse scandal, however, did prompt separate inquiries by the U.S. Department of Education and the NCAA into the school’s handling.
Paterno didn’t intend to become a coach. He played quarterback and defensive back for Brown University and set a school record with 14 career interceptions, but when he graduated in 1950 he planned to go to law school. He said his father hoped he would someday be president.
“I had no intention to coach when I got out of Brown,” Paterno said in 2007 in an interview at Penn State’s Beaver Stadium before being inducted into college football’s Hall of Fame. “Come to this hick town? From Brooklyn?”
In 1963, he was offered a job by the late Al Davis _ $18,000, triple his salary at Penn State, plus a car to become general manager and coach of the AFL’s Oakland Raiders. He said no. Rip Engle retired as Penn State head coach three years later, and Paterno took over.
At the time, Penn State was considered “Eastern football” _ inferior _ and Paterno courted newspaper coverage to raise the team’s profile. In 1967, PSU began a 30-0-1 streak.
But Penn State couldn’t get to the top of the polls. The Nittany Lions finished second in 1968 and 1969 despite perfect seasons. They were undefeated and untied again in 1973 at 12-0 again but finished fifth. Texas edged them in 1969 after President Richard Nixon, impressed with the Longhorns’ bowl performance, declared them No. 1.
A national title finally came in 1982, after a 27-23 win over Georgia at the Sugar Bowl. Another followed in 1986 after the Lions intercepted Vinny Testaverde five times and beat Miami 14-10 in the Fiesta Bowl.
They made several title runs after that, including a 2005 run to the Orange Bowl and an 11-1 season in 2008 that ended in a 37-23 loss to Southern California in the Rose Bowl.
In his later years, physical ailments wore the old coach down.
Paterno was run over on the sideline during a game at Wisconsin in November 2006 and underwent knee surgery. He hurt his hip in 2008 demonstrating an onside kick. An intestinal illness and a bad reaction to antibiotics prescribed for dental work slowed him for most of the 2010 season. He began scaling back his speaking engagements that year, ending his summer caravan of speeches to alumni across the state.
Then a receiver bowled over Paterno at practice in August, sending him to the hospital with shoulder and pelvis injuries and consigning him to coach much of what would be his last season from the press box.
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