For 46 seasons, Joe Paterno, identified by his classic blue windbreaker and jet black sneakers, would peer through his thick-rimmed glasses and repeat the same thing to his players before practices and game days:
“Believe deep down in your heart that you’re destined to do great things.”
These words were ones that Joe Paterno lived by until his death on January 22, 2012.
Paterno was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1926 to his parents Angelo and Florence Paterno. Being raised during the depression, Paterno learned to face adversity at an early age and was almost forced to leave high school early due to the tuition price.
Through hard work and determination, Paterno excelled in the classroom and graduated from high school. After serving in the U.S. Army in the last year of World War II, Paterno’s excellence in academia continued when he attended Brown, where he played quarterback and lead the Bears to a 15-3 record through the 1948-49 seasons.
Although Paterno originally planned to be a lawyer after graduating, his college coach Rip Engle convinced him to sign on as an assistant coach at Penn State, where Engle had just accepted the head coaching job. After Paterno agreed, he quickly fell in love with the program and never looked back. In 1966, Paterno was named Engle’s successor and took his place as head coach.
Within the next three years he led the team to two undefeated seasons and major bowl game wins.
Paterno, who was eventually nicknamed “JoePa,” spent the next 46 years completely dedicated to the Nitteny Lions’ program and instilled in his players the desire to win. This became evident when he led the team to 37 bowl appearances with 24 wins and an overall record of over 400 wins, a feat that no other major college football coach has ever achieved. The Nitteny Lions achieved their 400th win in grand fashion on November 6, 2010 by coming back against Northwestern and scoring 35 unanswered points in the second half to win the game 35-31. Paterno was also the only coach to win each of the current four major bowls, including the Rose, Sugar, Fiesta, and Orange Bowls.
Paterno’s love for Penn State overflowed from the football field to the classroom. He contributed his time and money to numerous charitable events as well as funded a new wing to the library on campus which was appropriately named the Paterno Library.
Paterno’s 409th win, and final game as coach, was against Illinois this past season. The team was able to rally with an 86-yard drive for a touchdown in the final seconds of the game, winning 10-7. Paterno had an exciting end to an impressive legacy as head coach.
In mid-November of 2011, Paterno was diagnosed with lung cancer that would eventually take his life two months later. Although his reign ended abruptly, his legacy as a successful coach will live on.