Steamboat Pilot & Today sports reporter and photographer Joel Reichenberger can be reached at 871-4253 or jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com.
Find more columns by Joel here.
Steamboat Springs The Penn State crimes scare me for all the obvious reasons. Sharks like Jerry Sandusky are out there perpetrating carefully considered atrocities, and highly-thought-of people like Joe Paterno sometimes lack the courage to stop them.
After that, however, the fear from the whole affair is more internal. It scares me what all this reveals about the cult of college football and my own place in that worshipping world.
Joe Paterno was by virtually every number an incredible football coach and by virtually every account a great person. Empowered by a deep love from an adoring fan base, he was the only one capable of destroying all that.
I know a guy like that. I idolize a guy like that.
The football coach at my alma mater, Kansas State’s Bill Snyder, has led a turnaround story as good as any that can be written. Worst to first. Toilet bowl to Fiesta Bowl.
I’ve lived and loved nearly every step.
K-State’s football success has meant so much to me and my family. Family vacations have wrapped around bowl games and great college memories have wrapped around big games and boozy tailgates.
I’ll never forget the sheer elation in 2003 when, for the first time, K-State won a football conference championship. We were so happy, all of my family. I may never have seen my dad happier.
Sure, it was about the win, but that’s just part of it. Reflecting now, it’s the joy that stands out more than any touchdown or interception.
Even more than the joy, it’s the pride in victory. It’s the way it’s happened. Snyder came to my college with a mantra I aspire to, even if I fail almost constantly: “Get a little better every day.”
He defied convention and worked the rules to his advantage. He made a big deal of the small things, and it all added up. He proved with my team, to me, that no hurdle is too large for hard work and intense focus.
I love it. Should I apologize for that?
If it were my school, my coach, would news like Penn State’s draw out the joy now infused in my memories? I hope not. Would it change the lessons about details and hard work? I pray it wouldn’t.
It scares me. It scares me because when I consider my coach, I don’t always consider his human flaws. It scares me because if someday we learned something about him — something I don’t predict now but never could — my gut reaction might be to close my ears and tell everyone they don’t understand.
I don’t want to lose the memories I have or the lessons I’ve learned, and if I found out the man who helped teach those, who helped make it possible, was horribly, criminally flawed, there may be no other option.
There’s so much to be learned from the Sandusky crimes, so much that has nothing to do with football. Those are the important things. But after we consider those awful aspects, we should all take some time to consider our heroes and, now while we can, separate the lessons from the teachers.
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com