Paterno epitaph: He protected himself, not the children

On those glorious, golden football Saturdays at Penn State — especially after any of Joe Paterno's record 409 wins — the nickname “Happy Valley” was invoked ad nauseam.

It was an easy, effective cliché for most sportscasters, albeit incorrect.

State College, Pennsylvania's given name of “Happy Valley” had nothing to do with football and never did. But it worked, in the whole “football is life” theme, just as “Touchdown Jesus” beckons running backs at Notre Dame and embraces winners.

“Happy Valley” was the tidy label put on Penn State and it's environs during the Great Depression, decades before Joe Paterno became the university's football coach. The name was a tribute to how State College managed to thrive (relatively speaking) during the depression, largely because of Penn State's economic prowess.

State College long boasted of its Psychology Today magazine ranking as the #1 lowest stress city in America.

It is safe to say that the happy days may not be there again, for a long while.

As football legend-turned real life pariah Joe Paterno goes to his final resting place, he will take with him the answer to a question that might have salvaged his reputation: Why didn't you do something?

In an interview shortly before Paterno died, he claimed “I didn't know which way to go.“

I didn't know which way to go?

In 61 years of coaching, Paterno taught his players that there was only one way to go: forward.

That is how touchdowns were scored and careers were made.

But when Paterno was faced with information about children being molested practically under his nose, he “didn't know which way to go?”

Then, in that last interview, he added that he essentially did nothing ...”rather than get in there and make a mistake.”

I don't believe it. Paterno was making more than a million dollars a year, was the patriarch of Penn State and truly a living legend. He was looking at a $550,000 per year state pension and all the football tickets he wanted.

He was not a man prone to avoiding mistakes. He preached forward motion, aggressive thinking and doing. Not “I didn't know which way to go.”

Paterno certainly knew which way to go to protect his own assets.

He transferred his ownership share of the family home in Happy Valley to his wife. According to the real estate records the intra-family deal went from Joe to “Suzanne P. Paterno, trustee” for $1 plus “love and affection.”

Of course, such family transactions are not unusual especially when one person may be subjected to a future lawsuit. Why take a chance on losing everything?

But in Joe Paterno's case, when that transaction occurred is the most interesting part.

He off-loaded his share of the family house last summer, on July 21. That was almost four months before the Jerry Sandusky child-sex scandal broke in public.

Paterno's lawyer suggested that the deal was innocent. He told The New York Times that the property transfer was part of a “multiyear estate planning program.”

Sure. In Happy Valley people will believe anything. Or at least they used to.

Last fall adoring home crowds at Beaver Stadium had no reason to doubt the Jumbotron video that was specially made for this season.

Accompanied by a dramatic sound track, there are cuts back and forth between current Penn State scenes and identical archival black and white footage.

Richly interspersed are shots of Paterno at different times in his coaching career, with quotes from the Penn State Alma Mater:

“For the glory of old state ...

for her founders strong and great ...

for the future that we wait ...

raise the song ... sing our love and loyalty ...

may no act of ours bring shame....

may our lives but swell thy fame.”

Ÿ Chuck Goudie, whose column appears each Monday, is the chief investigative reporter at ABC 7 News in Chicago. The views in this column are his own and not those of WLS-TV. He can be reached by email at and followed at ChuckGoudie and

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