One of the greatest things about being in the Big Ten is that all the programs feel connected. Even Penn State and Nebraska, who have entered the conference within my lifetime, feel like extended family members now. Therefore, when Penn State and the college football community lost Joe Paterno this morning I feel like the conference as a whole will mourn.
The ending of his career was certainly the worst possible ending for a legend, but let's focus on the man. Here was someone that was humble and loved many he came in contact with. He never insisted on a Saban-esque contract extension or cult of personality around him. He gave millions back to Penn State instead of taking millions in return. He was everything that most of college football is not these days. In many ways, he was the grandfather of the entire Penn State community.
One of the coolest things I have been privileged to do because of this blog was meet JoePa last July. I never imagined when I started this place in August 2006 that I would be considered a competent member of the legitimate media. I wrote (and still write) as a starry-eyed fan given incredible access to these events. In July, Joe Pa was in his usual form: surrounded by the media spinning yarns like the grandfather-figure he was. It's hard to believe that everything that has happened in the six months hence has happened.
In October Mrs. T-Mill and I went to Happy Valley for the Purdue game and what would be one of JoePa's final games as coach. It was one of the most pleasant experiences of my sports fan life. Seeing it up close, you could tell that Penn State football was JoePa, and JoePa was Penn State football.
I honestly think this whole ordeal with Sandusky is what sent him over the edge. After all, he was an 85-year-old man. It doesn't take much to send someone over the edge when you reach that age. We may never know exactly what JoePa knew about an evil man such as Sandusky, but to me, the man died of a broken heart.
I'm honored that I got to be in the presence of a legend this past year, even if for a brief few minutes. It is my hope that the Sandusky scandal eventually clears his name so he can be remembered for the wonderful human being he was.
If you know a Penn State fan today, give them some comfort. I know a few, and they will be grieving bitterly today like they lost a family member. Thank you, JoePa, for the good you did for college football and the world.