And one of the best examples of Paterno’s care for his players is Adam Taliaferro, a former Penn State cornerback who sustained a paralyzing spine injury during a game in his freshman season back in 2000.
As he lay on that field paralyzed and scared, Taliaferro says Paterno was the first person he saw:
“He could see I was losing it, but his eyes stayed totally calm,” Taliaferro remembers. “And I remember that familiar, high-pitched voice, going, ‘You’re gonna get through this, Kid. You’re gonna be OK.’ And I just trusted him. I believed it.”
Taliaferro wound up in a hospital bed in Philadelphia, everything frozen solid below the neck. Doctors said he had about a 3 percent chance of walking again. And every other week, Paterno would fly to Philly to see him.
“He’d bring our trainer and a couple of my teammates,” Taliaferro says. “Nobody in the hospital knew he was there.” Paterno would tell him all the dumb things his teammates and coaches had done lately. Pretty soon, Taliaferro would be laughing his IVs out.
Taliaferro, now 30, is not only walking again; he is an attorney and successfully ran for public office in New Jersey. He thanks Papa Joe for helping him push forward when recovering from his injuries got rough.
During the media’s coverage of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, it has been common practice to mention Paterno’s name in the same breath as Sandusky’s. But should Paterno’s legacy be synonymous with Sandusky’s alleged shameful acts?
“A man is more than his failings,” Reilly says of Paterno. And Taliaferro agrees.