Those of us who knew Joe Paterno through direct and indirect association (in my case, the latter, for nearly 50 years) were well aware of his indomitable spirit. In fact, he was so stubborn — completely intractable at times — that many of us eschewed political correctness in our frustration with his decisions, calling him not so lovingly “that stubborn wop”.
Joe was family to us Penn Staters, so we could talk freely about his bourbon and ginger, his stubborn streak, his Italianness, his Catholicism and such, just as we would have done back in the day on the sidewalks and stoops of his native Brooklyn. Joe grew up in an earthier era when such arguments and put-downs were the spice of life. Moreover, like family, when the controversy of the moment had ended, we’d kiss and make up, many times having to admit that the old man was right.
Thus it was with disdain that following his death on Sunday, that I observed so many commentators choosing the lazy road, opining — nay, pontificating — that Old Joe had died of a broken heart. They didn’t know Joe. They couldn’t have. I attempted to dispel that broken heart notion with anyone who would listen to me, but everyone is entitled to an opinion and few ever change theirs.
“My life has been filled with sunshine. A beautiful and caring wife. Five healthy children. I got to do what I loved. How many people are that lucky?” –Joseph V. Paterno, 1926-2012
You know what “they” say about opinions.
My personal opinion is that Joe’s spirit could not be broken by the Sandusky scandal and the ensuing, undeserved, ignominious knee-jerk dismissal by the Board of Trustees. Joe had been through innumerable tough situations during the course of his long life but he never showed signs of faltering in the face of adversity. In the end, what defeated him was not “a broken heart” but metastatic small cell carcinoma of the lung. I would be willing to bet that Joe faced his illness as yet another sturdy opponent to study and defeat. Alas, this one had already advanced too far by the time he was ready to begin his fight. He was flanked by metastases like a quarterback being attacked by a blitz with his pocket collapsing around him. It was only a matter of time before Joe was sacked by the marauding rogue cells. However, you can be certain that he went down swinging, not wallowing in self-pity or grimacing with bitterness.
Writer Joe Posnanski has been immersing himself in Joe’s life — and unexpectedly, his death — for many months as he researches the biography he is writing called “PATERNO”, to be published by Simon & Shuster in September. He spent time with Joe and the Paterno family during Joe’s final days, and wanted to share some details of that time with us via a short piece he wrote for Sports Illustrated. In it, he asserts that Joe Paterno did not die of a broken heart. When Joe entrusted Posnansky to write his biography, he chose wisely.
Let us lay that sorry-ass “broken heart” story line to rest!
One other thing worthy of note here: Thursday’s “A Memorial For Joe” will air live on both the Big Ten Network and BTN.com at 2 PM EST.