Joe Paterno dies at 85; transformed Penn State into football power
The Ivy League-educated coach's career ended mired in scandal less than two weeks after he recorded his 409th career victory, a major-college football record.
Coach Joe Paterno leads his Penn State team onto the field in 2004 for a game against Akron in State College, Pa. (Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press / March 13, 2014)
The list of those who played for Paterno includes Jack Ham, John Cappelletti, Franco Harris, Lydell Mitchell, Curt Warner, Shane Conlin, Matt Millen, Todd Blackledge, Kyle Brady, LaVar Arrington, Larry Johnson, Courtney Brown and Kerry Collins.
Paterno's teams were known for their toughness and selflessness. The school's blue-and-white uniforms were famously nondescript — lacking player names, decorations or logos — a Brand X quality that came to symbolize the program's team-first image.
An English literature major at Brown University in Rhode Island, Paterno was a voracious reader whose favorite sayings included Robert Browning's "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?"
Paterno was a demanding and relentless coach, a meticulous note-taker and a stickler for detail.
For years, he devised the game plans and called plays for the offense and defense.
His brother, George, once told Sports Illustrated: "Joe's the most intensely competitive man I've ever known."
Penn State was a virtual autocracy under Paterno, who ruled without much resistance in a remote college town miles removed from the big-city media glare. His practices were closed and so, mostly, were his lips.
Ron Bracken of the Centre Daily Times, based in State College, once described Paterno as "cranky, tyrannical, dictatorial, blunt, scathing, charming, beguiling, entertaining and witty, all in the span of 30 minutes."
Playing football for Paterno wasn't always easy, and sometimes it took years for players to appreciate his motives and tactics. He did not forge close relationships.
Cappelletti, a running back who won the Heisman Trophy in 1973, told The Times in 1998, "I was co-captain, but I never remember approaching Joe one time to have a conversation with him."
Ham, the great Penn State linebacker and Pittsburgh Steelers star, once said, "All of us disliked Paterno. It made us closer. He was very cold to his players."
Years later, however, Ham chose Paterno to be his presenter at his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Ted Kwalick, a former Penn State tight end, once remarked, "The older I get, the smarter Joe Paterno is."
Paterno used his celebrity, income and pulpit as football coach to help enhance the university's reputation. He and his wife, Sue, who met when Paterno was a Penn State assistant and she was a student, donated more than $4 million to numerous Penn State projects.
"I do want to make an impact," he told The Times in 1998. "I'd hate to walk away from this after 50 years or so and look back and say, 'He had a couple good football teams.' I'd hope that apart from having some good football teams here, some people have benefited by being in the program, and were better people for having been a part of it."
Joseph Vincent Paterno, the son of second-generation Italian immigrants, was born Dec. 21, 1926, in Brooklyn, N.Y. Angelo, his father, and his mother, Florence, expected big things from the oldest of their four children. His father was a court clerk who earned his law degree at age 40.
"If we had a classroom spelling bee, I was expected to win it," Paterno said in the 1998 biography "No Ordinary Joe."
At Brooklyn Prep, Paterno was a scrappy, skinny and savvy quarterback and an inquisitive student. Summoned for military service after high school, he was training in New Jersey when World War II ended. After his 1946 discharge, he enrolled at Brown.
He played football and basketball in college and embraced academics, calling Brown an "intellectual feast." He was an accomplished defensive back — he still holds the Brown interception record with 14 — and a good enough quarterback to lead his team to an 8-1 record as a senior.