Penn State’s Sept. 17 home matchup against Temple coincides with the 50th anniversary of late Nittany Lion coach Joe Paterno’s first game at the helm of the program. Tucked away in a press release that went out Thursday afternoon was a (sort of) announcement that the university will be “commemorating” the anniversary at some point during the game vs. the Owls.
To say PSU clearly wanted to downplay the news would be an understatement. It is listed along with the other events surrounding the Temple game — including a “Stripe Out” theme, THON and Community Heroes Day, and Faculty & Staff Day. Paterno is only referenced once in the release, and as “Coach Paterno” rather than by his first and last name.
The headline of the release is, “Penn State Launches Web Page for Football Themed Game Days and Promotions in Beaver Stadium.”
Fortunately, at least one media type ignored the mundane subject line and actually read the e-mail containing the release. Within hours, the news was on the ESPN crawl.
Yet as tempting as it is to poke fun at the PSU athletic department for trying to slide the “Coach Paterno” announcement below the radar, that would actually take away from what is looking like a pretty sound strategy play.
Penn State has been caught between a statue and a hard place when it comes to Paterno’s legacy for going on five years now. You know the story.
Major college football’s all-time leader in victories (409), Paterno was fired by Penn State after the Sandusky scandal broke in November of 2011. Paterno died of cancer in January of 2012.
The university removed a statue of Paterno from outside Beaver Stadium shortly before the football program was hit with NCAA sanctions stemming from the scandal in July of 2012. Though most of the sanctions were eventually invalidated — and the 111 wins that had been vacated from Paterno’s record restored (and law enforcement never implicated Paterno in any wrongdoing) — the statue has not gone back up.
A couple of years ago, the athletic department began showing a brief snippet of Paterno in a pregame hype video that plays in Beaver Stadium — a second or so that always generates a loud cheer from the crowd.
But the Temple game will mark the first official in-stadium acknowledgement of the Hall of Fame coach’s achievements that has been announced in advance since the statue came down. It is much more than a pregame video snippet … yet much less than a statue going back up.
It is going to allow the university to get a feel for the overall public perception — from fans, the media and the world in general — of Joe Paterno being honored in a subtle way.
Where might that lead? Well, if anyone knew, that would really be burying the lede.
But you can pretty much set your watch on critics blasting Penn State for being “tone deaf” anytime anyone associated with the university says something positive about Paterno.
Come Sept. 17, I have a feeling the people who matter in Happy Valley are going to be all ears — with an eye on deciding the best way to finally move forward.
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