Myke Triebold’s husband and Joe Paterno knew each other for decades. She met him twice. She went to church with the Sanduskys. She lived in State College for 22 years, was a season ticket holder and attended countless games at Beaver Stadium. The last few months have shaken her, made her mad. She doesn’t recognize the Penn State or the Joe Paterno she’s seen in the paper and on TV.
That’s why she was glued to the TV on Thursday, watching for two-plus hours as speaker after speaker remembered the Paterno she remembers, the man who coached football at the school for 46 years and gave his heart and soul to her alma mater, not the man who has been vilified for the last three months and was summarily fired over the phone.
Triebold, a candidate for the school’s board of trustees, wanted to go to the memorial service for Paterno, but she lives in Florida and, like thousands of others, couldn’t get tickets anyway. The event could have sold out 100,000-seat Beaver Stadium but was held inside the school’s basketball arena. Still, watching on TV beat missing it entirely, and afterward, Triebold felt, if not better, at least happy to have been part of the celebration, even if she was more than 1,000 miles away.
“The service gave me an opportunity to celebrate all that he meant to all of us who have been a part of the Penn State family, and feel the gratitude that will carry us through,” said Triebold, who taught at Penn State. “Hopefully our lives will ‘swell thy fame’ the way Joe would have wanted. Only a few tears, mostly gratitude and appreciation.”
There was only one direct reference to the Sandusky scandal and the end of Paterno’s career, and that came from Phil Knight, the chairman of Nike. The Penn State board of trustees fired Paterno Nov. 9, four days after former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was charged with sexually assaulting eight boys over a 15-year period. A furious debate has since played out about whether Paterno did enough once he was notified of allegations against Sandusky in 2002. “If there is a villain in this tragedy, it lies in that investigation, not Joe Paterno’s response to it,” Knight said.
Those comments drew a standing ovation some of the loudest and most sustained cheering of the day.
But overwhelmingly, the speakers simply saluted Paterno, who died Sunday of lung cancer. He was 85. For more than two hours, former and current players, friends and family members talked about the impact he had on their lives. Most of the stories sounded like vintage Paterno, of what a hard-nosed coach he was, always pushing, pushing, pushing his players, even long after they left Penn State. Knight told the most unexpected story, describing Paterno and Rick Neuheisel performing a duet of the 1960s song, “Wild Thing,” with Neuheisel on the guitar and Paterno singing.
Knight said he chose Paterno as his hero 12 years ago, after his previous hero died. He said he learned of Paterno’s death on Sunday and blurted out, “‘Who’s going to be my hero now?’ It’s a question every one in this arena can ask. And I don’t have an answer for you. But I can tell you this much, that old hero, he set a standard that will live forever.”