Just a week ago – Saturday night, January 11th – I got the call that no parent ever wants to get: My oldest son, Matt, had been found unresponsive in his room and the paramedics were unable to revive him.
Matthew was dead.
Needless to say, it’s been a very long, exhausting and sad week here in Erie, PA.
Matt was a very funny and terrific kid. He was a wonderful and natural musician.
In the end, Matthew had a on-and-off battle with substance abuse that he finally and sadly lost.
Matthew touched a lot of people during his young life…over 1,000 people showed up for his calling hours and memorial service. There was an hour and a half wait to stand in line on Wednesday night for his viewing, with many people standing outside in a snowstorm before they could even get inside the building.
I shook every single person’s hand and asked them how they had known Matt. I learned a lot about my son this week.
Through it all, we were constantly supported by friends and family who traveled, took time off from work, and held the space for us. We couldn’t have made it through the last week without them.
Every day that passes is just a little easier…while our lives will never be the same, we’re choosing to focus on celebrating Matt’s young life and not on his passing away.
It’s hard to believe that it wasn’t that long ago that I used to roll my eyes at anyone who would drive over three hours to watch a college football game.
Boy, have times changed.
I fell in love with Penn State after my first game there…and – despite everything – I still love everything about it.
It’s NOT a football culture. It’s a culture of people who really – REALLY – love their school and football just happens to be a great way to get 100,000 of them together for a day.
10 Things To Love About Penn State Football
The Location: Let’s face it, it’s 3 hours from pretty much everywhere. But if you’ll take the time to leave a little early, it’s a beautiful drive.
State College: Just a great college town. Period.
The Energy, Part One: It’s never really a bad thing to be around higher education, young people, and their enthusiasm for life. It’s contagious.
The Energy, Part 2: Seeing 100,000 people all wearing something blue and white is a little jaw-dropping.
The Blue Band: Nothing but the best…the Blue Band is one of the main reasons that I go to games. Even if the football team loses, the Blue Band never does.
The Game-Day Experience: It’s a haul, man. After a long drive and a long walk to the stadium, you learn to just embrace it and love it because it’s part of the deal. Moving 100,000 people around for a few hours does present its share of challenges.
The Excellence: At game time, there’s about 500 people involved between the players, the coaches, the staff, the Blue Band, the twirlers, the Lionettes, and the cheerleaders. Every single person on that field is at the top of their game…many apply, few are chosen.
The Love: I don’t know about other schools, but yesterday made it clear to me that Penn Staters LOVE Penn State. PSU has the largest alumni group in the world – 0ver 500,000 living members – and they will forever be linked to Penn State and come back often.
The Love, Part 2: I always heard that past members of the Blue Band were invited back on homecoming weekend. I had no idea that like 200 showed up. Not only band members, but twirlers and drum majors, too. They put on a halftime show that was awesome. They had Blue Band members from the 2000′s, the 90′s, 80′s, 70′s, 60′s….and even two members from the 50′s. Wow.
The Football Team: Oh yeah…those guys! Beating Michigan in quadruple overtime was the icing on the cake.
In the end, I left Erie on Saturday at 10 AM and returned home at 3 AM on Sunday morning. Quite a day, but WOW did I pick a day to go to a game…the longest game in Penn State history, a beautiful fall day, and a win over those turds at Michigan.
Over the last 20 years, I’ve been a BIG PC user…for both business and home use.
Despite that, I’ve always kind of kept an eye on the “other world” as in anything “Mac.”
For starters, every single graphic artist that I know uses a Mac in one form or another…macBooks, iMacks, etc…
While I’ve stuck to “what I know” as in not having a lot of spare time to learn a new operating system, I am also open to new tools to make my work go faster, easier, and better looking. As my video “empire” has increased – almost a million views on YouTube – I began to research and pay attention to what software might be more suitable for me.
I decided – after listening, observing, and seeing what others were using – that maybe a Mac might just be the ticket to no only enhance but speed up my video-producing skills…after all, Macs are supposed to be really media-orientated, right? iTunes, iMovie, iLife, iPhoto…just a multi-media extravaganza!
Eh…not so much.
After 53 years on planet earth, I STILL would like to think that there are a few shortcuts. The same amount of time has taught me that, despite my best efforts, there are none.
In the end, all I really wanted to do was make my videos really “pop” with some cool crops, pans, and intros.
So, I bought a used iMac. A very nice one, about 5 years old, good processor, and lots of memory. Just get me to iMovie, baby and let’s rock ‘n roll.
Not so fast. No “iMovie” on the system.
OK. I GET it. I’m an American in France, trying to get to the bus station with limited communication. Really don’t speak the language and need to exercise a little patience.
Enter “Safari,” Mac’s little version of Internet Explorer. How hard can THAT be? Went to the “Apple Store” and was able to do an online “chat” with some chick that answered every question with an exclamation point, as in:
“I have the same computer!”
In the end, it wasn’t so “cool” or “awesome” as she had no idea of why iMovie didn’t exist on my computer. So she gave me an 800 number to call.
After giving my new computer’s serial number, I was informed by the woman who sounded like she was in a cubicle in Siberia that my computer was no longer under any warranty and she gave me a few payment options for support. No thanks.
After “Googling” my lack of having iMovie loaded on my system, it appeared that the best option was to just re-install my operating discs. Long story short, that’s what I did and YAY “iMovie” appeared. Cool.
Plugged in my video camera, opened iMovie…and it doesn’t “recognize” my video files. You’re kidding me, right?
Nope. Macs have no idea of what to do with “mts” files, which have been used by several camcorder manufactures for at least the last four years for HD videos. Again, you’re kidding me, right? My PC that runs Windows 7 can open and play these videos all day long. I thought that Macs were the “end all be all” when it came to handling any media.
It gets worse.
After 10 hours away, I still looked at my stunning iMac as the epitome of grace, power, and functionality…it just must be ME. Couldn’t WAIT to get home and start over with a new attitude.
After work, I sat down at the world’s greatest piece of technology and now anything that I typed in wasn’t showing up…anywhere. But I noticed that my wireless keyboard had a very small green light that was blinking. Okay, now what? I changed the batteries. Still blinking. Changed the batteries AGAIN. STILL BLINKING. Now I am beginning to remember all of the shit I learned in my anger management class 20 years ago, so nothing gets thrown.
Back downstairs to my PC and I have to Google “WHY IS MY WIRELESS KEYBOARD ON MY IMAC BLINKING”
Easy-peasy. The world’s greatest piece of technology is now in “SEARCH MODE” because it can’t find it’s own keyboard.
Won’t bore you with the details, but after re-booting and entering a 7-didget number the world’s greatest piece of technology finally figured out that – yes! – it has a GD keyboard. YAY!
I gave up on the online support stuff because “Safari” was driving me nuts and just called the Pittsburgh “Apple Store” and gave them my sob story about just wanting to produce ONE freaking video of me folding sheets or emptying my dishwasher. Perhaps we can move up to raking leaves next.
What do I need? The latest operating system? A new version of iMovie? Please…I’m exhausted.
“Pete” was very enthusiastic and told me that my system was more than ready to handle ANY video project but that I just needed to update my operating system and gave me the link. Okay, I’ll spend the $20 bucks, let’s just get this over with.
“Pete” enthusiastically sent me the link. I’ll have to wait a few days for the discs to arrive.
I whipped out my credit card gladly poured out my personal financial information so that I could just proceed with the very simple task of downloading the GD software that would put me in the upper echelon of the greats that have come before me: DeMille, Disney, Kubrick…give it to me, baby.
One more thing: we need the “security code’ on the back of the card.
I entered the information.
YOUR SESSION HAS BEEN TERMINATED DUE TO INACTIVITY FOR OVER 5 MINUTES.
Hey now…THAT was a LOT of fun.
Windows Movie Maker, anyone?
Please read tomorrow’s column where I’ll describe how I used a hammer-drill on an ingrown toenail to relieve the pressure.
“One of the discs in my back is on the verge of rupturing, and if i were to continue to play football, I would eventually need surgery and it would cause problems for me later in my life. Due to this, my football playing days are over. I just want to thank anyone who has been my teammate, coached me, or who has supported me over my career. It has defined who I am today and I will always be grateful to have had the opportunity I was given.” Jordan Kerner’s Facebook page, January 15, 2013.
And with that…ends a rather amazing journey.
I received a phone call from Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien about a month ago, and he spent a lot of time with me on the phone explaining that Jordan’s ACL injury recovery was being hampered by a lower back problem, and that he would be risking a life of constant pain should he continue to play football at Divison-1 level.
“Phil, they’re going to kill him,” he said.
After hanging up the phone, I went into my male-mode of denial…but when I began to explain the phone call a few hours later to Heidi, I teared up…and eventually wept.
All I kept thinking about is what a fantastic football player Jordan was…and what a great player he would have been for Penn State. Big, tall, strong, smart, and fast…they don’t build ‘em like that every day.
But, I knew in my heart that this was coming. When Jordan was at home over the holidays, I never brought it up. I decided to let him deal with this on his own terms, unless he brought it up. Talk about the elephant in the room.
Today, after he posted it on Facebook, the PSU message boards lit up…the PSU faithful were – as expected – unbelievably supportive of him. That’s why you go to Penn State: they will love you there.
Our first PSU game.
But it did bring back a crushing flow of emotions for me…a very tough afternoon for me today.
I watched with pride as Jordan signed with Penn State, and played in the Big 33 Game.
I was fortunate enough to be on the field, meet Joe Paterno, Tom Bradley, and Larry Johnson…and walk around the Lasch Building like I owned it. Not too shabby.
I watched him sign autographs…ever watch your kid sign autographs? It kind of freaks you out.
I have to say that my Penn State “experience” has been a mixed bag of incredible highs and incredibly depressing lows. Who would have ever- in their wildest imagination – have seen the absolute humiliating and crushing downfall of Penn State?
For his part, Jordan – along with most of his teammates – life went on. Lifting weights, working out, and going to class. Once a bond has been set at this level, it’s apparently very hard to break. These guys love each other, and it’s a big decision to break camp, pick up your stuff, say goodbye to your brothers, and go to another team.
I never “groomed” Jordan to be a football player. This whole process was like a giant Christmas gift to me…and definitely one of the highlights of my life that I will always remember. This kid just kept on getting bigger and faster and smarter…I wish I could take credit for it.
Signing Day: I’ll never forget it.
Most of us, I believe, never made it to elite “jock status” in high school. All of the “super stars” that I hid from all of those years ago never got a chance to step into the elite status of being recruited by any Division-1 programs, let alone Big 10 programs. I see the “heroes” every 5 years at my reunions, and most of them went on to create ordinary lives and are now fat and bald. Life has its way of equalizing things out.
In the end, football as it is now is an incredibly dangerous sport. 300-pound guys were never supposed to be this agile and fast. While the equipment has improved, the human skull is still has about the same amount of thickness that it did a million years ago. Our knee joints are about the same, and were never meant to make quick turns on artificial turf…that’s how Jordan blew his ACL out in the first place. There was a very good chance that his injury could have happened sooner rather than later.
For the record, Jordan will remain under full scholarship under a medical exemption, which simply means that he still has a full ride until he graduates from Penn State. All of the thousands of hours of work he has done may not pay off for him as a football star, but more importantly will insure that he graduates from Penn State with his degree. Coach O’Brien has assured me that he would like to keep Jordan involved in some way as a staff member. All is good.
I for one can say that he has earned it. I lived every moment of it, and saw the work he did and the stress he was under. Most “fans” will never know the silent work that goes on every day in Happy Valley, starting at 5:00 AM. There’s a heavy price to pay for being a member of the football team.
For me, this is the end of a very, very good chapter in my life. I loved writing about Jordan, about Penn State Football, and sharing my small insights with the Penn State faithful because you guys “get it.”
When my life flashes before my eyes some day, the scenes from Jordan’s football career will be right there: all of the high school games, the All-State awards, the Big 33 Game, and being in Beaver Stadium. As Frank Sinatra said, “It was a very good year.”
Indeed. It WAS a very good year.
Thanks, Jordan. It was fun to watch. I’ll never forget it as long as I live.
Tonight, my heart is heavy…but I am still Penn State and Paterno Proud.
Thanks to all of you Penn Staters out there…although I never went there, I feel like I am one of you.
The first weekend in December is a big “official visit” date for Penn State: finally, the red-carpet is rolled out for all of the recruits and their families. Prior to that, NCAA rules prohibit any expenses paid out on behalf of recruits for meals or lodging. THIS weekend is all about the wow-factor…nothing but the best. Free lodging in the Nittany Lion Inn, free meals, and meetings with the coaches and academic staff.
Who would have ever in a million years that in just two short years that all could end so tragically? Joe Paterno has been systematically scrubbed from Penn State. While the purpose of this post is to take a peek behind the scenes at a recruiting weekend when Joe ran the show, I will say that not even mentioning him this year at Beaver Stadium was kind of a joke, right? I mean, really…if you can’t give a tribute to Joe Paterno in the safest place in the world to give one…wow. Still ticks me off at what a bunch of PC-cowards are in charge down there.
Okay. What was it like?
Heidi and I arrived at the Lasch Football Building at around 3:30 PM on Friday afternoon. We were signed in and taken with the other recruits and their families to Holuba Hall (the h-u-g-e indoor practice facility) to watch the team practice. Within a few minutes, we had our first JoePa sighting.
There he was: this little, hunched-over Italian guy wearing a coat that looked two sizes too large, wandering through the middle of the field staring at some notes he was holding. At first, I felt bad because he looked like he was reading those notes like he needed directions to his office or something. I would find out later that Joe always carried his hand-written notes around with him to keep himself on task. He made his way over to us, introduced himself – like THAT was needed – and made a little joke about us bringing the cold weather with us from Erie. I soiled my pants right there.
Later on, we had dinner in the team dining room with the players and the coaches, and the evening ended with a trip on one of the blue buses to Beaver Stadium. The entire ride was narrated wonderfully by a former player, who stood on the steps by the driver:
“When you turn this corner, you’re going to look out of the window and see thousands of people tailgating in the fields around the stadium.”
“When you turn THIS corner, you’re going to see this 85 year-old alum who hasn’t missed a home game in 50 years…he came to see YOU play today.”
“When you turn THIS corner, the crowd is starting to swell…you’ll start hearing the sirens from the police escort in front of you.”
“When you turn THIS corner, you’re going to feel the bus start to shake from the fans that are running next to it and pounding on it.”
“And finally…you’ve arrived at Beaver Stadium, where 3,000 fans are waiting to see you get off the bus. The quarterback is the first one off, which is the symbol that on game day, it’s his team now. Joe exits the bus second, followed by the starting offensive team.”
When we walked into cavernous Beaver Stadium on that cold and clear December evening, they had the stadium lights on, the scoreboard lit up, and crowd noise being piped in through the sound system. It was quite a sight, and quite a feeling to walk through that tunnel. If your tongue is hanging out right now, yes – it was as cool as you would think it would be.
Our long day was over, so we met with the other parents at the bar in the Inn…lot’s of fun meeting each other and sharing stories.
Saturday was spent with academic advisers with the football team, a meeting with your son’s coordinator (ours was Larry Johnson, one focused dude is he) and finally lunch downtown with professors from your son’s declared major. But…the best was yet to come.
Saturday evening was a dressy affair at the Nittany Lion Inn. Coaches and their wives, the recruits and their families, and, of course…Joe.
If I took one single thing away from that weekend, it was this: When Joe Paterno stood up to speak, the room went quiet. Not “any” quiet…Catholic church quiet. Dead silence.
Respect. That’s just the way it was.
Joe thanked all of us for traveling to State College, made a few remarks, and said he was looking forward to seeing us later at his home for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres…he spoke so softly, but was as sharp as a tack. He finished with stating, “That was a pretty good speech…I usually get paid a buck for that. Of course, a buck used to be worth a lot more a few years ago.” Cute.
At that point – I will never forget this – Jay Paterno shouted out something about Bush being a moron. It was like the most inappropriate thing I ever saw in my life, and may ever see. I watched all of the assistant coaches nervously look at each other and roll their eyes as in…w-o-w. C’mon, Jay…REALLY? In fairness, Jay DID handle the aftermath of the Sandusky mess with dignity, so maybe his dad kicked his arse so hard that night that he learned his lesson.
Insider information: when you looked around the room, you could have been at Harvard. ALL of the coaches wore navy-blue blazers, striped ties, and shined shoes. Short haircuts, and no facial hair. The wives were decked out in silk dresses, lots of very nice jewelry, very high heels, and had professionally styled hair. It was quite a scene.
Okay, into the white van driven by our chaperon for the weekend: Mr. Mike McQueary. I am NOT kidding. But, we’re on our way to “Joe and Sue’s.”
Sue Paterno greeted us at the door, welcomed us in, and told us to help ourselves to the food…which she had prepared herself. Now, things get interesting.
Joe Paterno walks up to me – the Guy From Erie – and says, “Hey! It’s FRAN!” He proceeds to drag me around to all of the other coaches, saying “HEY! Fran’s here!” They all laughed, so I did, too. Who the hell was Fran? It turns out that I have a remarkable resemblance to Fran Fisher, the Penn State radio guy for a thousand years.
As the evening moved on, there was a knock on the door and one of the singing-groups on campus – can’t remember their name – showed up to sing some Christmas carols. Sue invited them into the living room, and we watched as Joe got up and joined in. They finished with “Hail to The Lion,” “Fight on State” and the “alma mater,” with Joe right beside them. I’ll never forget it…here’s the video:
To quote Paul Harvey, here’s The Rest of The Story.”
I pulled Mike McQueary aside and asked him if it would be appropriate to get a photo with Joe. “Not tonight,” he said. “Joe will be at breakfast in the morning with us, and that’s the best time.”
About 15 minutes later, Heidi and I were wandering around the house and ended up in the kitchen alone when in walks Joe. Call me an opportunist, but there was NO WAY I wasn’t going to take advantage of this moment. “Joe, can we get a picture?” “Sure.” I handed my camera to someone who was nearby and he snapped away.
The next morning at breakfast, there was a lot of buzz because Penn State just got the Outback Bowl bid at 11:00 PM the night before. It was a BIG deal…Joe comes to breakfast (blazer and tie, of course) and says, “Hey, thanks for coming …Penn State is a GREAT place to play football and get your education from. Hope to see you here as a player!”
That was it. He left.
No pictures. Not one.
In the end, I may have secured the last photo of Joe Paterno at the last “official visit” he ever conducted at Penn State, AND in his kitchen. Eleven months later, he was fired. A few months after that, he was dead.
After our wonderful weekend in Happy Valley, I wrote Joe a letter thanking him for the experience, expecting nothing in return.
About 10 days later, I got a letter from him…he had simply taken my letter and wrote his response across the top.
Somehow, someway…I lost it. Couldn’t find it. Tore apart every bin, drawer, and file cabinet in my house. No-go. For the last year and a half…looked everywhere.
And, today…I found it. It was like a Christmas present, a few weeks early.
I love Penn State, and I love Joe Paterno. His name will be cleared. Justice will run it’s course. He was a good man – not without flaws – but a good man.
And I was lucky enough to meet him.
Not sure if I’m on-board with the long hair and beards…but I understand the new coach had to do what he had to do. Bill O’Brien is like 45 years younger than Joe was, and things do change…but I always loved the Penn State “clean cut” look. It was iconic and set them apart. The day will soon come when you see dreadlocks flying out of a white PSU helmet…sigh. I am getting old.
I would have never written this post if the previous staff was still in place, out of respect. Coach O’Brien and his team are now creating their own traditions, as they should. I just thought that some of you might enjoy reading about what recruiting was like under Joe…I am not an expert. This was just my experience.
To celebrate The Queen’s good fortune of having spent eight years of marital bliss with The Guy From Erie, I purchased two tickets to see Melissa Etheridge at the Warner Theater tonight.
Being married to a strong woman like The Queen, I have obviously listened to and familiarized myself with her music over the years as part of my training (toilet seat, etc).
While I always knew Melissa Etheridge was pretty good, I had no idea that she was THIS good. Wow…two and a half hours – without a break – I was blown away by her voice, her devotion to her audience, and by her musicianship: she played 5 different guitars, a banjo, the harmonica, the keyboards AND the drums. It was crazy. She even gave a shout-out to the men who had the courage to come and see her in concert!
I bought the tickets the morning they went on sale, and we sat seven rows away from the stage. To my surprise, cameras were allowed, which I think is the first concert I have ever attended at the Warner where the performers didn’t block all video and photography devices. Unfortunately, all I had on me was my cheapo pocket camera because I never dreamed they would let me in with my “pro” camera.
Melissa Etheridge is a true artist: she just drops into a trance when she’s on stage…she must have thanked the little audience at the Warner tonight like 100 times for coming. It was like having front row seats at a New York City performance, which, by the way, she is performing on Wednesday night. I was actually a little surprised that she gave so much tonight knowing that she’s performing again tomorrow night.
Here’s just a small sample of tonight’s performance at the Warner:
I keep telling myself to just get over the whole Penn State thing.
It’s still painful to even think about: a rogue former coach who didn’t molest anyone in the Penn State locker room back in 2002 (see Sandusky verdict, not guilty on that charge) brings down an entire university and a Board of Trustees basically oversees the demolition of its reputation, the football program, and the legacy of a great man. And the guy who did most of the damage appears to be clueless.
In case you missed it, Mr. Emmert was holding court the other day up in Detroit, and basically confirmed my worse fears: he really doesn’t seem to know what he’s talking about. The guy who leaped in and nuked PSU did so with absolutely no facts in hand, and yet nobody seems to call him on it. Ever.
Pearl of wisdom #1:
“As for the criminal case against Sandusky, he said if the school had brought it forward when the initial claims of abuse began and separated itself at that time, the NCAA never would have been involved. The ensuring years of cover-up, he implied, caused the NCAA action.”
Yes, you read that right. Here’s the truth, fromPS4EVER:
“This bombshell exposes a basic, but colossal error in Emmert’s, and therefore, the NCAA’s understanding of the Penn State case: the first claim of abuse against Sandusky was in 1998, and it was, in fact, Penn State police who sent the case to the Centre County District Attorney at that time. The case was handled by Centre County Children and Youth Services (CYS) and the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (DPW), involving interviews with Sandusky by two separate psychologists, and the eventual notification of officials at The Second Mile. The conclusion was that Sandusky exhibited no criminal or pedophile behavior and the District Attorney, Penn State Police, State College Police, CYS and DPW had done the investigation thoroughly and cleared Sandusky.”
“Further demonstrating the lack of knowledge Emmert seems to have about even the basic details of the Penn State case, he also shared with his audience of business professionals that the Freeh Report was “more exhaustive” than anything the NCAA could have done. In one of the largest inaccuracies of his presentation, Emmert indicated that Louis Freeh “had subpoena power at the University,” which is grossly inaccurate, and one of the universal criticisms of the report. In fact, no one interviewed was legally compelled to tell the truth, or to even participate in the Freeh investigation. None of the major names in the Penn State case was interviewed for the report — including Joe Paterno (although he offered), Tim Curley, Gary Schultz or Mike McQueary – leaving many legal experts to strongly condemn the overall validity of its findings.”
Emmert said one of the biggest issues at Penn State was coach Joe Paterno’s power over university administrators.“You can’t have part of an organization that’s so revered and so powerful that not only can you not control it, you can’t even ask a question,” he said. “You can’t (even) go in there and say, ‘So what happened here?’ …
And finally, the nail in the coffin:
Finally, Emmert told his Detroit Economic Club audience that Penn State University officials said they were not disputing the facts in the Freeh Report, “so we had the facts,” Emmert said.
I didn’t even want to post this because writing it makes me sick to my stomach…I’m starting to lose hope because it is starting to appear this case is indeed hopeless because no one who should care is doing anything about it.