There was a beautiful picture circulating online of two ROTC members guarding the Lion Shrine. When I saw it I thought, wow we’ve come a long way from Sue Paterno in the 60s.
In 1966, Joe Paterno became head coach. Joe and Sue had three children by then, the youngest just four months old. Sue found the games to be boring and the season wasn’t going well. Apparently, one was expected to dress to the nines, sit for the entire game, and then go home. She was falling asleep. No fun. So, one night while up with the baby, she comes up with a plan to get folks fired up: let’s paint the Lion Shrine orange before the Syracuse game. She calls the other coach’s wives and asks if they’re up for a caper; she sends somebody else to buy two gallons of orange water-based paint. Accomplices, check. She creates a ruse over a forgotten birthday cake. Alibi, check.
Here’s why I love Sue Paterno. She’s got this mischievous streak and she pulls off the prank. But, she’s also a person of such high integrity and class that she spends the next few days worried she’s going to get arrested.
My favorite part of the story is when Joe asks her what her plans are for the next day and she says she’s going to take the kids to the park. And he says, well they’re looking to arrest the people who painted the lion and you’ve got orange paint on your trench coat.
Luckily for Sue, Syracuse fans took matters into their own hands later that night and doused the shrine again with orange oil-based paint. Then, decided it’d be fun to paint the goal posts, too. The rival game versus Syracuse was set to be on network television and there were police at the stadium guarding the camera equipment. Busted.
The guarding of the shrine has been going on for nearly 50 years. The Lion Ambassadors put on a great, all ages welcome, community event following the homecoming parade. If you go, you can hear SuePa tell the story herself.
I love that her motivation was to bring spark, life, inspiration to the fans. Penn State sure was lucky to have both the Paternos fully invested in their football team and in their university for so long. Even after all of the events of the last few years and all the mistreatment of the Paterno family by university leadership, Sue still loves Penn State.
Now on to Ohio State. Away and under the lights, its not going to be easy. I think we thrive as the underdog, but we’re going to need a caper. We are Sue Paterno this week. Our team needs our support and positive energy. We’ll need more spark than we’ve had all season. I don’t know if we’ll have enough experience or magic to win. But, I know we’ll have enough heart. And, I know we’ll want it most. A buckeye’s not much of a match for a lion anyway.