'A Memorial for Joe' Honors a Legend

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Jay Paterno

Jan. 26, 2012

By Tony Mancuso
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - A single trumpet player, clad in the iconic Blue Band uniform, stood before more than 10,000 members of the Penn State family, a family Joe Paterno had his hand in creating, and delivered an emotional rendition of "The Nittany Lion" to cap off a memorial for a legendary coach, leader and humanitarian in the Bryce Jordan Center on Thursday afternoon.

"A Memorial For Joe" honored the life and legacy of a man who gave 62 years to the betterment of State College, Penn State University and Penn State Football.

The thousands inside the Bryce Jordan Center stood in unison, clapping and cheering as Joe's wife, Sue, made her way down the line of the Paterno family, hugging each and every member in the front row of the floor seating next to the stage before taking a seat between her daughter, Mary Kay, and son, David.

Following an invocation, All-America wide receiver Kenny Jackson kicked off a list of 12 speakers, which included a player from every decade Coach Paterno directed the Penn State football program.

All-America tailback Charlie Pittman, who was part of Coach Paterno's first recruiting class in 1966, represented the 1960s with a moving speech about the man he looked up to for decades. Pittman said that Coach Paterno was the type of person that made him feel special from his teens to adulthood.

Pittman described Coach Paterno with honesty, effort, academics, sportsmanship and citizenship. When his son, Tony Pittman, turned down offers from Harvard, Yale and Princeton to play at Penn State, the Pittmans became the first father-and-son pair to suit up for Coach Paterno.

The Pittman duo accounted for three of Coach Paterno's five undefeated seasons (1968, '69, '94). Pittman said that when he and his son started games for Coach Paterno, Penn State went 45-0-1. Additionally, they were both Academic All-Americans. Pittman ended his speech with one simple sentence.

 

 

"Rest in Peace, Coach. We'll take it from here," Pittman said as he received a well-deserved standing ovation.

Jimmy Cefalo played under Coach Paterno from 1974-'77 and was selected to speak on behalf of the 1970s. Currently the radio voice of the NFL's Miami Dolphins, Cefalo graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism.

Cefalo's speech story centered on a recruiting visit, saying that Coach Paterno did not recruit athletes he recruited their moms. He proceeded to describe Coach Paterno's visit to the Cefalo household where Joe remarked that Cefalo's mom made better pasta than the Cappelletti house did during the recruiting visit to Penn State's Heisman Trophy winner.

The Pittston, Pa., native ended his speech with a reference to Coach Paterno's "Grand Experiment" where athletes wouldn't just be athletes, they would be student athletes.

"We can say now, 46 years later, that the `Grand Experiment' was a great success," Cefalo said.

Quarterback on the 1982 national championship team, Todd Blackledge, representing the 1980s, said that Joe Paterno "was the most extraordinary person I have ever known." Blackledge, who currently is a college football analyst for ESPN, characterized Coach Paterno with TLC - Team, Loyalty and Competition. He also called Coach Paterno the fiercest competitor that he had ever seen.

Chris Marrone, whose playing career was cut short by injuries, represented the 1990s. Marrone was an offensive lineman on the 12-0 Big Ten title team in 1994 and a 1997 graduate. He said Coach Paterno molded him into a man with the strength to overcome any challenge and any adversity.

"You have a greater purpose than football and I'm going to help you achieve it," Marrone said about Coach Paterno.

Seattle Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson realized a dream this season when he earned a spot in the NFL's Pro Bowl, which is this weekend in Honolulu. After practicing earlier in the week in Hawaii, Robinson flew nearly halfway around the world to be with his Penn State family and speak on behalf of the 2000s. Robinson stepped off the plane just three hours prior to the memorial.

"I wouldn't be any other place in the world right now," Robinson said.

Robinson went on to say that his fondest memory with Coach Paterno was standing on the stage after winning a dramatic 2006 Orange Bowl with Coach by his side.

"Joe is the reason I am on this level," Robinson said.

Current Nittany Lion linebacker Michael Mauti had the honor of representing the current team and decade. Without question, it was the largest crowd the junior had ever spoken in front of, and Mauti did a tremendous job honoring Coach and thanking the fans for their support.

Mauti shared a comical story of his recruiting visit to Penn State. Prior to the visit, Mauti told his mother that he was not going to commit to anything during his trip to Penn State; rather the family would weigh their options before deciding. However, while sitting in his corner office at the Lasch Building, Coach Paterno delivered his recruiting pitch and ultimately said, "What's it going to be, kid?"

Mauti, with his parents by his side, immediately said, "I'm here." His dad, Rich, who also played for Coach Paterno, tried to chime in, but Coach Paterno interrupted and told him to be quiet. The rest is history, and Mauti is a Nittany Lion.

Current Penn State senior, Lauren Perrotti, a Paterno Fellow Scholar; Jeff Bast, founder of Paternoville in 2005; Susan Welch, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, also addressed the crowd with personal stories of their connection with Coach Paterno. Dean Welch remarked that, "Joe and Sue have been steadfast supporters of the academic mission of Penn State."

Chairman of Nike, Phil Knight, first met Coach Paterno 33 years ago on the annual trip with college football coaches. Knight spoke about Coach Paterno singing "Wild Thing" in the talent contest portion of the trip with the college coaches during each of the past 15 years.

Finally, Jay Paterno delivered a moving speech on behalf of his dad. Jay said that he was proud to have his driver's license read Joseph Vincent Paterno, Jr. He spoke at great length about the final days he spent with his father and what it meant for Coach Paterno to spend his life at Penn State. Jay ended his speech with the audience hand-in-hand delivering the Lord's Prayer in unison, just as Coach Paterno did after every locker room speech following every game that he coached in at Penn State.

Jay's speech also included a story about Coach Paterno making anonymous monthly payments to a former player to help with his son's brain cancer.

That was the type of man Joe Paterno was, on and off the field.

It was a fitting tribute to a man who meant more to Penn State than any other man in its illustrious history.

All 12 speakers delivered countless stories about personal encounters or recruiting visits with Coach Paterno, but Perrotti, the current senior and Paterno Fellow Scholar, summed up the immeasurable impact Joe Paterno had on Penn State University best.

"The Paterno Way has become The Penn State Way...Success With Honor has become the standard."

@PennStateFball

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