Parasiliti: Paterno followed in Engle's footsteps

January 29, 2012
  • Bob Parasiliti
Bob Parasiliti

Life has so many mysteries.

No matter how much we pretend to know, there is so much we don’t.

How does one acorn become a tree, which somehow is the beginning of a forest?

Why does impact leave no feeling until it’s gone?

Does history really repeat itself?

The answers to these questions are provided through comments made 16 1/2 years ago in Waynesboro, Pa.

“… Every place he went, he won with dignity. Every place was better for having him there. He was more worried about what he would leave behind. People talk to me about what I have done for Penn State. I got it all from Rip.”

Those were the words delivered by Joe Paterno, the legendary Penn State football coach who died on Jan. 21, as he spoke at the dedication of the Charles A. “Rip” Engle Sports Complex on July 23, 1995 at Waynesboro High School. Paterno was the coach who replaced Engle on the Nittany Lions’ sidelines after he retired from the job 55 years earlier.

“I could never in words thank Rip or (his wife) Sunny for what they did in my life. He’s done everyting that I wanted to be. Penn State is a much better place today because of him. Anyone who had personal contact with Rip, anyone who is here today, is better because of him. … You are doing a great honor for one of the greatest people I’ve ever known. Rip is a real legend.”

Many times, words like those come off as hollow, faint praise coming in the emotion of a moment.

From Paterno, they resonated.

Fast forward to this week. Everything Paterno said about Engle is now being repeated about Paterno by those who came to know, respect and love him.

Paterno lived a life that continues to send ripples.

 “He teaches us about really just growing up and being a man. Besides the football, he’s preparing us to be good men in life,” former Penn State linebacker Paul Posluszny, who now plays for Jacksonville Jaguars, once said.

“He will go down in history as one of the greatest men, who most of you know as a great football coach,” Tom Bradley, the assistant who replaced Paterno as interim head coach, said after Paterno’s death.

“He cared about the kids. He wanted to see us succeed. So for a lot of us, he became a grandfather-like figure,” said Jordan Derk, a Penn State senior at Paterno’s funeral procession.

“What’s Joe’s legacy? ... It’s not (the Division I record) 409 wins, it’s not two national championships, and it’s not five-time coach of the year (awards). It’s us,” said broadcaster and former Penn State receiver Jimmy Cefalo at Paterno’s memorial service.

Rip Engle’s beliefs were the acorn that helped in the growth of the sturdy tree named Joe Paterno. By combining his experience with Engle and the upbringing of his parents, Paterno spent a 46-year run creating the forest known as Penn State.

Paterno proved you can use a given purpose — like football — to change the lifetimes of generations to come.

Those on the outskirts of the forest will always remember Paterno as the little guy with Coke bottle glasses who won a record number of games and a couple of national championships. To others, Paterno’s name will always be tarnished by a child sex abuse case which was uncovered a few months ago.

But those who are part of the forest know how deep his roots actually ran.

Paterno’s beliefs of education and “success with honor” impressed the core of the families of the young men he recruited to play at Penn State.

That image was carried out on the football field by those recruits.

Those actions created an underlying theme for students and a university that you can have success and service the common good of others with humility and the conviction of your actions.

Over the years, many players and students of that university have gone on to successful lives while paying it forward to their families, professions and the people they meet.

It started because an acorn really didn’t fall far from the tree.

It also adds one more mystery.

Why do we have this habit of waiting to celebrate someone’s life until after they have died?

That is the toughest question to answer.

R.I.P. Rip. R.I.P. JoePa.

Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-791-7359 or by email at

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