Penn State Game Reveals a More Noble Hero

Joe PaternoPenn State Coach Joe Paterno may not have been in Beaver Stadium today in the physical sense, but it was obvious the legendary coach was very much present at the game against Nebraska. So much so that it was hard not to feel badly for Interim Coach Tom Bradley, the man who has spent 33 years hoping to fill the shoes of the college football's winningest coach only to have to do so under the cloud of a disgusting child sex abuse scandal. He's the "good guy" here. When are we going to let him get out from Paterno's shadow?

While Bradley did an excellent job of coaching the Nittany Lions to pull within three points of the Huskers in the second half, ultimately losing 17-14, hundreds of students could be spotted in the stands sporting "Joe Knows Football" t-shirts. Others were dressed in JoePa's well-known outfit: pants with the legs rolled up, white socks, and thick black glasses. And Jay Paterno, Joe's son, was getting a hero's welcome of sorts.

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I get it. Joe Paterno is one of the best known coaches in sports history. He's been in State College for some 60 years. He's got a library named after him. A building at Nike. Statues around the campus. It's pretty hard to erase a legacy like that in a single weekend, even with the vomit-inducing charges that stand against the fired coach.

But this is one of those "love 'em, hate 'em" situations. Penn State has to love the fact that their college football program -- one that brings immense amounts of moolah into the university -- was built by Joe Paterno. There is no avoiding that.

But they sure as heck should hate the current situation! Remember: sworn grand jury testimony claims Paterno knew Jerry Sandusky was caught raping a child in the shower on Penn State premises, and he did not call police. If it's true, he needs that hot shot attorney he is said to have hired.

Bradley -- as far as anyone can tell -- had nothing to do with that. He's innocent. He's just a guy who got  his dream gig under some really awful circumstances, and he's doing a pretty good job at it.

So what does it say that today all anyone seems to want to talk about is Joe Paterno, Joe Paterno, Joe Paterno? Before and after the game on ESPN, reporters were on the lawn of his house, as if we were going to learn something more by seeing the guy who delivers Paterno's mail (really, one postal employee from Pennsylvania just got his 15 seconds of fame). The way they were talking, I half expected the 84-year-old to come bursting out of a cannon as the Nittany Lions tried to negotiate a comeback. How could they dare move on without him?

Penn State is going to continue to field a Division 1 football team for the rest of the season, in part because of what Joe Paterno accomplished. But Joe Paterno is not the be all and end all of college football. He did something that got him fired. As one of my favorite signs held by a Penn State student the other day says, "Joe Paterno is no victim."

Tom Bradley is now the coach. Penn State has moved on -- whether people like it or not. Bradley is the guy who kept a team together under some really crappy circumstances and ensured they didn't completely embarrass themselves on the field today. He even had the class to steer reporters toward talk of the victims of the abuse scandal and how much they need to be supported -- instead of talking Paterno or even the game.

It's now Bradley's job to be a leader for the Penn State football team, for the kids who are there to play football, to try to create something positive in something so dark and twisted. It would be nice if the guy could get a little credit for doing the right thing today!

Do you feel bad for Bradley today? Should we still be talking about Paterno?

 

Image via jkahnpsu/Flickr

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