Tuck: Joe Paterno's Wins Don't Matter
The NCAA imposed massive, unprecedented penalties to Penn State for their alleged cover-up of Jerry Sandusky's crimes. One of them was stripping the Nittney Lions of all their wins from 1998 to 2011. That result knocked the late Joe Paterno from atop the all-time wins list.
Stripping wins and records is no doubt embarrassing to the person or school/team involved. I don't argue that. Ideally, it would be something you'd like to avoid explaining to people.
The problem is that you can't change peoples minds. What has happened, has happened. Penn State did win all those games. Joe Paterno was the coach for all them.
An asterisk can show change but it can't erase people's memories. Our minds aren't computer programs that can simply be wiped clean. The * can serve a reminder as to future history affecting past history, but not much more.
I will recognize Joe Paterno as the all-time wins leader in college football. I recognize Barry Bonds as the home run king. I recognize Pete Rose as baseball's hits leader. The Fab Five got Michigan to two Final Fours. I remember Brett Favre as the all-time leading passer. I know OJ Simpson was a great NFL back and a Heisman Trophy winner. Oh, and Reggie Bush won a Heisman too.
My point is that while many men's legacies were added to or altered after the fact of their successes that made them important figures, they are still memorable. Bobby Bowden, the "new" wins leader, doesn't need the record. He didn't earn more wins, and even had some stripped from him. But Bobby Bowden is still safe with his place in history with or without some wins.
I believe this terrible scandal involving Penn State adds another chapter to JoePa's life story. Jerry Sandusky's crimes and whatever Paterno knew of them had no impact on the results of the games being played. They are, in the end, just games. Real life opinions and thoughts about Paterno may have taken a hit, maybe even a HUGE hit. That's fine. I don't really hold a strong opinion about a man that I never met or knew. I won't ever know the truth, but if Joe Paterno knew something, I would be disappointed in him as a man. I don't really know the man. Never did.
What I do know is that Joe Paterno the football coach was a iconic coach, and one of the greatest ever. However many wins he is ultimately credited with is largely irrelevant compared to what he represented to Penn State, college football, and it's fans.
For what it is worth, my feelings about the penalties levied by the NCAA, and the fairness of them, are best articulated by Stewart Mandel of CNNSI. You can read his outstanding piece here.