How do you write about that which seems impossible?
That's the thought that has entered my mind an infinite number of times over the last few months.
One more time, the impossible has happened - Joe Paterno has died.
AP file photo
Former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno stands with his team before they take the field against Wisconsin on Oct. 13, 2007, in University Park.
"He died as he lived," Paterno's family said in a statement shortly after his passing Sunday morning. "He fought hard until the end, stayed positive, thought only of others and constantly reminded everyone how blessed his life had been."
Joe always was a fighter. Whether it was critics saying he was too old and needed to retire, university officials trying to push him out the door after a few losing seasons, or an unthinkable child sexual abuse scandal involving his longtime, former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, the wily old coach from Brooklyn was going to battle to the end.
I think back to my not-so-distant past, when I was a high school student trying to make that life-altering choice on where to continue my education. I didn't come from a "Penn State family" - my parents both attended West Chester University; my older sister went to a small college in New Jersey.
I grew up watching Penn State football on TV most fall Saturdays, but I would also watch teams like Florida, Texas, and, dare I say it, Notre Dame. I didn't have that connection to Happy Valley so many others did, so I had never felt that undying passion to one day call myself a Penn Stater.
But I also knew that I wanted to be part of something special, so without much wavering, I decided to come to Penn State.
That's the influence Joe had. Whether it was a five-star football recruit or just some dumb kid from the Philadelphia suburbs who had no clue what he wanted to do with his life, you knew that if you went to Penn State, Joe would somehow, in some way, steer you in the right direction.
Joe always coached his players to be good men above all else. He preached the importance of an education first, football second - a policy that seems almost unheard of in college athletics these days.
With a Joe Paterno team, you always knew what to expect - a steady running game, a concrete defense and a fight-to-the-end spirit. Despite calls for him to change his coaching style, he never did, and it always seemed to work out.
Joe led Penn State to two national titles and sent more than 350 players on to the professional level.
But Joe was much more than just a football coach to this university. He was more like a father, a grandfather, a friend and a mentor. He loved all those who loved Penn State, and we loved Penn State because of Joe.
Joe never made the top coaching salary in college football, although had he asked, he could have. But that just wasn't his style.
"What would I do with all that money?" he would say.
Instead, he gave a majority of his salary over the years back to the university in one way or another. He donated the money to build and expand the massive library on campus that I studied in. The school's Catholic Student Faith Center, another Paterno-funded project, bears the name of his wife, Sue. Joe and Sue have a scholarship in their name. And the list goes on and on.
The impact he had on this university will never be duplicated. No one can dispute that.
But along with all the good he has done, his name will forever be tied to the scandal that rocked Happy Valley this past fall and ultimately cost Joe his job. His name, cursed by some, will hopefully be restored to its righteous level when the dust settles.
Joe should not, and will not, be remembered for the black eye this university has recently suffered. I know that's not how I will remember him.
I'll remember the short, grey-haired man I ran out of shop class to see my senior year of high school when he was on a recruiting visit for my classmate, Pat Devlin.
I'll remember the feeling I had as a young journalist, sitting in a press conference just a few feet away from him for the first time. When he walked into that room, it might as well have been Jesus himself stepping up to the podium.
Most of all, I'll remember the excitement standing on the Penn State sideline that snowy, late-October evening as the Nittany Lions roared back to beat Illinois and give Joe his 409th, and final, win.
If you loved life, loved Penn State and had a good heart, you loved Joe Paterno. And he loved us all back.
"They ask me what I'd like written about me when I'm gone. I hope they write I made Penn State a better place, not just that I was a good football coach."
Here's to you, Joe.
Chris McFarland is news editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.