For the next 45 years, the bricks were set down in answer. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes, players could be held to higher standards of character. Yes, players could have success with honor. Yes, to class attendance and good grades. Yes, to graduation for all races. Yes, loyalty. Yes, honesty. Brick by brick the foundation was laid. Yes, we can build a world class university with an amazing library. Yes, we can expand this success with honor ideal to all students. Yes, we can be different. We can be better. Brick by brick.
The foundation is set strongly, firmly, unshakably in place by all those who proved day in and day out that the Grand Experiment succeeded. When FIVE HUNDRED lettermen and guests show up to celebrate the 50th anniversary of your first win as head coach with your family, it makes a statement. It's not just made up in our heads. The foundation is real. It's part of our collective memory and, like the mountain upon which it all began, this foundation will not be moved.
On Saturday morning Franco Harris placed a brick at the statue site. A site where once stood a statue of Paterno, yes, but also the players’ wall. A site that was unceremoniously dismantled brick by brick. Franco Harris, who himself is living proof of Penn State's different, better football culture, put down that brick to symbolize the start of rebuilding that wall. “In one way or another, Joe Paterno had an impact on all of our lives,” he said. “As I lay down this brick, it is a testament to the culture that Joe laid down for us.”
It's fitting that Franco laid this first brick because, if you've been paying attention, you know that Franco also laid the first brick in 2012. Remember those pointless “town hall” meetings they used to subdue the alumni outrage? It was Franco who traveled behind that circus and spoke truth. It was Franco who laid the first brick of our future when most of us were still reeling.
Another bricklayer started a tiny grassroots Facebook group, which was a haven for many of us in the wake of disaster and the first way to direct our anger productively: we intended to vote out the board of trustees. And we did. Over three years we laid brick after brick of our future by meticulously voting in alumni trustees who could tirelessly lay more bricks. That group has grown to more than 40,000 members and is called Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship. Do you know Maribeth Roman Schmidt? She recently posted a letter she had written to a USA Today columnist and she prefaced her post by saying, “I’m just not willing to give up. Ever.”
Jay Paterno, of course, Jay. Jay lives it more than probably anyone else. He’s Joe’s legacy, figuratively and genetically. And, that man can write. I've been reading his speeches and columns and he is the embodiment of our past, present, and future. Brick by brick, he speaks the truth candidly and courageously.
It's not just our quest for truth and our embrace of our tradition. Brick by brick we are making strides on the field. Brick by brick, we carry the legacy in guys like Saquon Barkley, who gave away his high school track meet gold medal and whose six rushing touchdowns in the first three games are the most since Evan Royster in 2008. Brandon Smith, a third-string linebacker, married, devout Christian, who had eight tackles and one broken-up pass. John Reid, who said he got his interception for Josiah Viera, the 12-year-old mascot of the State College Spikes who is afflicted with progeria.
This is the house WE ARE building. A house on higher ground. No human action can ever erase or make us forget the foundation we lay it upon. Not a letter to the editors from misguided faculty (which, by the way, contained just 65 signatures out of 3,409 faculty <409!>, or less than 2%). Not the NCAA. Not ESPN. Not the Board of Trustees. Not whomever authorized the careless removal of every tribute from the statue site before the end of the first quarter.
For every name that lies, slanders, abandons, and steals a brick, there are two who remember, educate, and pass on the tradition. Franco, Maribeth, Jay, me, and all of you.
Joe Paterno said in his last team meeting that we will always be teammates until the day we die and no one, no one can take that away.”
Take heart lions. Just as our football program and this great university weren’t built overnight, so we will rebuild again. Brick by brick.