The final goodbye for Joe Paterno

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The final goodbye for Joe Paterno

From Comcast SportsNet
The house at the end of the block was fast taking on the feel of a shrine when Joe Paterno stepped into the crisp November night with his wife, Sue, by his side. Students had gathered on the lawn, some carrying hand-lettered signs, many near tears and all of them confused, sad and angry. For the first time in nearly half a century, Paterno was no longer Penn State's head coach, fired moments earlier by university trustees desperate to contain the damage caused by a child sex-abuse scandal involving former defensive coordinator and one-time heir apparent Jerry Sandusky. An era was ending, Paterno acknowledged. "Right now, I'm not the coach. And I've got to get used to that," he said. A mere 74 days later, Paterno was dead. ------ Paterno's 46th season in charge at Penn State began with a blindside hit -- an omen, perhaps, of the trouble to come. As the Nittany Lions ran drills during a preseason practice Aug. 7, Paterno was watching the defense when wide receiver Devon Smith slammed into the then-84-year-old coach, injuring his shoulder and pelvis. Paterno spent two nights in the hospital, and the injuries would keep him in the pressbox during games for much of the season. But he returned to practice three days after the collision, insisting the injuries would not force him into retirement. "The day I wake up in the morning and say, Hey, do I have to go to practice again?' then I'll know it's time to get out," Paterno said. The Nittany Lions began the year as unsettled at quarterback as they had been the previous season, when their 7-6 record was their worst since going 4-7 in 2004. But Penn State's resounding 41-7 victory over FCS opponent Indiana State in the season-opener returned the Nittany Lions to the Top 25 for the first time in 11 months -- just in time for a visit from then-No. 3 Alabama, a rare showdown between two of the country's most storied programs. With Beaver Stadium rocking, Penn State took the lead with a field goal on its first possession. But the Nittany Lions would manage only one more first down the rest of the first half as the Tide rolled to a 27-11 win. "We certainly deserved a whooping today," Paterno said. "I think we've just got a lot of work ahead of us." That became even more evident in the following weeks, as the Nittany Lions barely scraped out wins against Temple and lowly Indiana. But the quarterback debate was eventually resolved -- enough, at least, so that the bruising running game and ferocious defense that had been Paterno's formula for success could take over once again. By the time Penn State headed to Northwestern, where Paterno would equal Eddie Robinson's record for most coaching victories, the Nittany Lions were tied with Wisconsin atop their Big Ten division and eligible for a bowl game at 6-1. "Joe's always talked about Eddie with a great deal of respect, nothing but admiration for him," Paterno's son Jay, Penn State's quarterbacks coach, said then. "When you're in that kind of company, that's pretty elite company." A week later, on Oct. 29, Penn State slogged out historic victory No. 409 in the snow against Illinois. The Nittany Lions fumbled six times, losing two of them, but Silas Redd scored on a 3-yard run with just over a minute to play to make Paterno the winningest coach in major college football. The electronic sign boards lit up with congratulations, and fans braved the cold and snow to stick around after the game and celebrate their beloved "JoePa." At the postgame ceremony, Penn State president Graham Spanier and athletic director Tim Curley presented Paterno with a plaque that read, "Joe Paterno. Educator of Men. Winningest Coach. Division One Football." "It really is something I've very proud of, to be associated with Eddie Robinson," Paterno said. "Something like this means a lot to me, an awful lot." The victory improved Penn State to 8-1 and bumped the Lions up to No. 16 in the AP poll. As the lone unbeaten left in Big Ten play, with a two-game lead in the loss column in its division, Penn State had the inside track to the conference championship game. Get there and win, and Paterno and Penn State would be headed to the Rose Bowl. And then came the concussive blow that only a very few saw coming. Sandusky, the architect of Penn State's ferocious defenses, was arrested Nov. 5 on charges of sexually abusing a total of 10 boys over 15 years. The details in the grand jury report were graphic and lurid, a shocking rebuttal of Sandusky's reputation as someone devoted to helping at-risk kids. Worse, some of the alleged assaults were placed at the Penn State football complex. Then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary testified he saw one of those assaults in 2002 and reported it to Paterno, who in turn told his superiors, Curley and university vice president Gary Schultz, who was head of campus security. Paterno insisted McQueary did not use the same graphic descriptions he has in court, where McQueary has said he saw what he believed was Sandusky raping a boy of about 10 or 12 in the Penn State showers. And Paterno swore he had no idea until then that Sandusky was a danger, despite a 1998 incident that was investigated by campus police. Paterno's failure to call State College police, or even follow up with Curley and Schultz, initially sparked outrage outside Happy Valley. With the university engulfed in turmoil, Paterno announced on Nov. 9 that he would retire at the end of the season. "This is a tragedy," Paterno said. "It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more." The trustees would have none of it. Following a two-hour meeting that same night, vice chair John Surma instructed an assistant athletic director relay a message to Paterno's home to call him. According to The Washington Post, Surma told Paterno, "In the best interests of the university, you are terminated." Paterno hung up and repeated the words to his wife, who redialed the number. "After 61 years he deserved better," Sue Paterno said into the phone. "He deserved better." Then she hung up. "Obviously Joe Paterno is a worldwide icon and has done a tremendous amount for the university," trustee Joel Myers said this week, explaining the board's decision to fire the coach. "We have sorrow and all kinds of emotions, empathy, sympathy for what has occurred. That's universal. "But the university, this institution is greater than one person." Enraged students flooded State College streets in protest of Paterno's firing, some throwing rocks and bottles and tipping over a TV news van. But tempers had calmed by Saturday, when Penn State hosted Nebraska in the Nittany Lions' first game in 46 years without Paterno in charge. Though tailgates parties went on as usual under sunny skies, a sense of surreal surrounded the stadium, as if fans weren't quite sure how to react to Paterno's absence and the events that caused it. Beaver Stadium was awash in blue -- the color associated with child-abuse prevention -- and public-service announcements flashed on the scoreboard throughout the game. Fans wore shirts and carried signs in support of Paterno, and several students came dressed as JoePa in rolled-up khakis, white socks and thick, dark glasses. Finally, when Paterno's image was shown in a video montage before the second-half kick-off, the student section let loose with chants of "Joe Paterno! Joe Paterno!" The joy would be short-lived. The following Friday, Paterno's son Scott announced that his father was being treated for lung cancer, diagnosed the previous weekend. The cancer was treatable, Scott Paterno said, and doctors were optimistic his father would make a full recovery. But it was apparent Paterno's decline was accelerating. A fall at his home Dec. 10 left him with a fractured pelvis, and he was hospitalized for a week to make it easier to receive his chemotherapy and radiation treatments while he recovered. The cancer had clearly taken a toll. A picture of a frail Paterno showed him wearing a wig, his thick, dark hair gone. Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins, who landed Paterno's only interview after the firing, wrote that his gravelly voice was now a soft rasp, "like wind blowing across a field of winter stalks, rattling the husks." The second part of the interview was done at his bedside; later that day, Jan. 13, he was re-admitted to the hospital, where he died nine days later. "You know, I'm not as concerned about me," Paterno told Jenkins. "What's happened to me has been great. I got five great kids. Seventeen great grandchildren. I've had a wonderful experience here at Penn State. I don't want to walk away from this thing bitter." Walking away at all was hard for Paterno to imagine. Football, along with family, was his life, and he saw what happened to his friend and rival, Paul "Bear" Bryant. "Quit coaching?" Bryant once said. "I'd croak in a week." He died less than a month after he retired at Alabama. Bobby Bowden, the longtime Florida State coach and a contemporary of both Paterno and Bryant, said it was more than coincidence. "I thought the same thing about Coach Bryant," Bowden told the Tallahassee Democrat on Sunday. "He stopped coaching and Coach Bryant died a month later. Here with Joe, he stops coaching and he dies a few weeks later."

Lawson, bench unit spark Kings' much-needed win over Pistons

Lawson, bench unit spark Kings' much-needed win over Pistons

Everyone must contribute. With Rudy Gay gone for the season, Sacramento needs a team effort each night out if they are going to have a chance of turning things around. Balancing the roster on the fly is never easy, but it’s the hand that the Kings were dealt when their second leading scorer tore his Achilles last week.

Needing a win in the worst way, the Kings walked into the Palace at Auburn Hills and came away with a huge 109-104 victory. Demarcus Cousins put up numbers, but it was the supporting cast that found a way to rise to the occasion and snap the team’s five-game losing streak.

“We’re going to need everybody on this team,” Cousins told reporters following the game. “At some point, everyone on the bench is going to win a game for us. Tonight, it was Ty (Lawson), it was Willie (Cauley-Stein) and it was Malachi (Richardson).”

Lawson was a magician with the ball. He entered the game with the Kings down just one with 3:36 remaining in the first quarter, but the Pistons caught fire around that time and pushed the lead to 11 with 20 seconds remaining in the quarter.

It looked like Sacramento might fall behind big once again, but then Lawson and the bench unit took over.

“Ty Lawson, Malachi Richardson and Willie Cauley-Stein had a great energy when we were down 11 in the first half,” Joerger told reporters. “Obviously, probably the best Willie’s played all year. Same for Malachi. He got some run, he got a little burn in the second half, felt pretty good.”

Powered by Lawson, the offense instantly opened up in the second quarter as the Kings tracked down the Pistons on their home floor. Sacramento outscored Detroit 37-24 in the frame to take a three point lead into the intermission. Lawson posted nine points and handed out four assists in the quarter.

“When our offense gets sticky, he’s able to create shots for guys by getting kickouts and getting in the lane,” Joerger said.

The 5-foot-11 point guard didn’t let up in the second half, finishing the night with 19 points and six assists in 23 minutes of action.  

“Chico just goes and plays, man, that’s Chico,” Cousins said of Lawson. “If there’s anyone with a green light to just go and play, it’s him. We love what he does with this team. He’s a spark off the bench for us. He gets us going when there’s a slump. We love the little guy.”

Lawson has become a catalyst off the bench for coach Jeorger. The 29-year-old speedster signed a one-year deal with the Kings late in the offseason and he’s quickly found his niche with the team.

“You play with Ty, you can’t help by want to run, because he will pitch it to you and that’s the best motivation - everybody wants to score,” said Joerger.

Cousins and Lawson didn’t do it alone. Cauley-Stein had one of his games of the season, finishing the night with 12 points and five rebounds. Darren Collison added 12 points, Garrett Temple chipped in 11 points and veteran Matt Barnes added 10 points and eight rebounds.  

“It’s a big, bounce back win,” Cousins said. “We were kind of heartbroken about the last lost. We felt we did everything needed to pull a win and it just didn’t go that way for us. We kind of showed our character and showed we could overcome some type of adversity with the win tonight.”

The Kings are back at it on Wednesday in Cleveland when they hit game four of their season-long eight-game road trip. They’ll face LeBron James and the championship Cavs for the second time this month.  

“It’s huge, we had a little stretch where we lost like eight of nine games, something like that,” Lawson told CSN’s Kayte Christensen following the game. “Getting a win going into Cleveland, it makes us feel a little bit better. Now we’ve got to go in and get a tough one.”

A tough one indeed. Cleveland sits at 31-13 on the season, but they are coming off back-to-back losses against the Spurs and Pelicans.

 

Sharks' Marleau strengthens his case for Hall of Fame with career night

Sharks' Marleau strengthens his case for Hall of Fame with career night

Whether Sharks all-time leading scorer Patrick Marleau is worthy of the Hockey Hall of Fame is a subject that can be hotly debated in sports bars throughout North America.

Monday’s performance in Colorado gave some major ammo to the side that argues in his favor.

Marleau had one of the greatest single game performances of his 19-year career, scoring four goals – all in the third period – of the Sharks’ 5-2 win over the Avalanche. 

How rare is four goals in a single period? It’s happened just 12 times, the most recent of which was Mario Lemieux on Jan. 26, 1997 at Montreal, according to Elias. Just five months later, a teenage Marleau would be drafted by the Sharks with the second overall pick.

Marleau spoke with NBCSN and CSN analyst Bret Hedican after the game.

“Everything seemed to click there in the third,” he said. “Some really good plays from a lot of different players. Was able to finish them off.”

What seemed to spark Marleau was a line change by coach Pete DeBoer to start the final frame, after the Sharks had managed just four shots in the second period, and 13 through 40 minutes. Marleau was taken off of the Joe Thornton-Joe Pavelski line, and put on the left side of the Logan Couture line, with Mikkel Boedker on the other wing.

Boedker’s hard work in getting the puck to the point resulted in Marleau redirecting a hard Marc-Edouard Vlasic pass to the front of the net to give the Sharks a 2-1 lead they would not relinquish.

He scored three more from there: a wraparound, a two-on-one with Pavelski, and a breakaway.

Switching lines is not unfamiliar to Marleau, who has played up and down the Sharks lineup this season after spending most of last season as the third line center.

“I play a bunch of different positions. Over the years you get a little experience and you know how to handle those situations,” Marleau said of his versatility. “It was a fun period.”

Vlasic said: “He was everywhere in the first two periods, and all of a sudden he exploded in the third. … He’s fast, he’s skilled. There’s a reason he can score four.”

Marleau’s second goal of the night was the game-winner, and even that was a bit historic. It was his 96th career game-winning goal, and he’s now tied for 10th all-time in that category with Mats Sundin (courtesy Darin Stephens). He is already one of just three players to have a game-winning goal against 29 other teams (Sundin, Brendan Shanahan), after getting one against Philadelphia on Dec. 30.

Four of Marleau’s five career hat tricks have come on the road, including his most recent one, also at Colorado on Nov. 20, 2011. He is just the third Sharks player to record four goals in a game, joining Owen Nolan and Tomas Hertl, and is the first to do it in a single period.

Marleau now sits just three goals from 500 in his career. Reaching that milestone seemed like a tossup to start the year, but now it’s virtually inevitable that he’ll become just the 45th player to reach that lofty mark before the end of the season.

He remains, of course, the Sharks’ all-time leader in games played (1459) and points (1059).

It all adds up to a few extra strides towards that hockey cathedral in downtown Toronto.