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Hometown View – 11/9/11

Joe Paterno statue at Penn State. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

What’s taking place at Penn State University is tearing me apart because that school and its football program is not just something I’m casually interested in but rather has been a passion for 40 years.

Ask me to make a list of my greatest sports memories and #1 is January 1, 1974 when Penn State beat LSU in the Orange Bowl to finish an undefeated season which was led by the school’s only Heisman Trophy winner John Cappelletti. I was 17 years old and sat in the stands amid Nittany Lion fans in Miami, Florida with a family friend who was my age as well.

My father had made arrangements whereby a security guard who he knew was to meet us after the game and drive us back to the Fontainebleau Hotel where the Penn State team was staying. Well a half hour after the game ended he had not shown up and frankly we did not know what to do…this was well before cell phones.

Anyway I somehow worked my way to the Penn State locker room where I tried to explain to a guard that my father knew coach Joe Paterno and I needed to get a message to him. He refused but allowed us to wait outside the locker room where the team would emerge moments later. I screamed to Paterno that I was “Jimmy Williams son and was stranded.” He came over and allowed me to explain my dilemma and said “well get on the bus with us and you can ride back to the hotel to meet you Dad.” So I did and sat in the back about three rows from Capelletti and a receiver by the name of Chuck Herd, who had made a tremendous catch in the game. It was my Dad through Paterno’s brother George, who had helped Herd end up at Penn State as he was from our old stomping grounds in New York. Anyway I rode back on that bus as Penn State players celebrated the victory…a few even had cigars and knew that I would be a fan for life.

Now almost four decades later I have put a son through that school and have a daughter who is a sophomore and a lot has changed. But Joe Paterno is still the coach, at least for today. I don’t know what he did or didn’t do and unlike all the experts who believe they have all the answers I don’t know what the future will bring. But I can tell you that regardless of who is coaching the Nittany Lions this Saturday or next year I will be rooting for the Blue and White because it’s a long term relationship.

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