“It is being involved in a common cause which brings us joy and memories which endure. It is making our very best effort, that we have stretched to the very limit of our ability, which makes us bigger and able to stretch again: to reach even higher as we undertake new challenges.”–Joe Paterno
Paterno, in his rolled-up pants, white socks and trademark rimmed glasses, thicker than stained-glass windows, built a down-home football Camelot in the age of the jet-setting, check-chasing college sports coach. He would walk to practice from his modest ranch house, located on a tree-lined street right off the Penn State campus, and kept his home number listed in the phone book. Idyllic State College, Pa. was dubbed Happy Valley. “Joe’s different from the rest of us,” former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer once remarked. He was also better: Penn State won national titles in 1982 and 1986, and became known as “Linebacker U,” as Paterno, in many cases with the help of Sandusky, developed a crop of fierce defensive players who would find great success in the NFL, including Jack Ham, Shane Conlan and Lavar Arrington.
All the while, Paterno conducted what he called “The Grand Experiment”: he was convinced that athletes could, in fact, also be students. “In an era of college football in which it seems everybody’s hand is in the till or balled up in a fist, Paterno sticks out like a clean thumb,” Sports Illustrated wrote in its Sportsman of the Year profile. “His standard of excellence is so season-in, season-out consistent it borders on the monotonous: win 10, 11; send off another bunch of future doctors, lawyers and accountants.” Penn State’s football graduation rates remain consistently above the norm. In December, the New America Foundation gave Penn State the highest academic rating of the top schools playing in a major bowl game. Paterno quoted the classics in his pre-game speeches, and assigned book reports to his recruits. “Football isn’t everything,” he told TIME in 1978. “It’s just another extracurricular activity, like science club or the band.”
The life-sized bronze statue of Paterno outside of Beaver Stadium, where Penn State students gathered Sunday to mourn Paterno’s passing, symbolized Happy Valley’s reverence and adoration for “JoePa.” Paterno and his family donated over $4 million to the university for faculty positions, an interfaith spiritual center, and the Mount Nittany Medical Center. In 2000, Penn State named a library after Paterno, a noted bookworm.