Death of Happy Valley

“Happy Valley” is a term that came to have a multitude of connotations. All those connotations generally were positive. According to a Town and Gown Magazine article termed “The Origins of Happy Valley,” Pat O’ Brien introduced the term to State College, Pennsylvania. He came back to the United States after commanding tanks in the chaotic South Pacific, where he arrived at Pennsylvania State in order to complete his PH.D. in speech communications. O’Brien casually threw the saying “Happy Valley” around to explain his love for the city of State College, as it was a big improvement for his family from the stressful, tumultuous life that they endeavored in the war-ridden Pacific. O’Brien went on to meet the Lehmans, who wrote “Open House” columns from the mid 1950’s to the 1980’s. In these columns, the Lehmans started to pick up on the “Happy Valley” expression that they obtained from O’ Brien and they started using the saying in their columns. This gave the expression the exposure within the State College community that made it into what it is today. The saying has since been adopted by the Penn State student body and came to represent something even bigger, the Penn State football program. With the massive amounts of success they were having and the head coach they deemed ‘Saint Joe,’ Penn State football was a force to be reckoned with.

Joe Paterno took over the Penn State football program in 1966. The program had some success in the previous years, with records of 6–4 in 1964 and 5–5 the following year. They were a team that was on the rise, but were waiting for the leader a Nittany Lion team needed in order to get to the big stage.

It appeared they had found just that. Paterno built a team that went 11–0 in 1968, finished second in the final Associated Press poll, and beat Kansas in the Orange Bowl. “Happy Valley” was in full effect.

Insert Jerry Sandusky. The year was 1969. Sandusky took over as the defensive line coach for a unit that was stocked full of talent, including Mike Reid. Reid went on to win the Outland Trophy, given to the nation’s best interior lineman. This is where Sandusky began his ascension up the ranks in the Penn State football program.

One year later, Sandusky was promoted to linebacker coach. He held this position until another promotion came in 1977, where he became the defensive coordinator under Joe Paterno.

In the same year, Sandusky went on to be the founder of a children’s charity called “The Second Mile”. This was a non-profit organization that served underprivileged youth.

Up until his retirement in 1999, Sandusky would go on to become one of the best defensive coordinators in the game. He received multiple head coaching offers at other universities, but wanted to stay at Penn State.

Sandusky became Paterno’s partner in crime. He received so much recognition from not only the State College community, but nationally. He was held in such a high light that is unparalleled to most assistant coaches ever witnessed.

The story seemed to be perfect.

All throughout his enduring success on the defensive side of the ball for Penn State, Sandusky continued his charity work with “The Second Mile”.

He was applauded for his work with the organization, even receiving a letter from President George H. W. Bush in 1990, calling it a “shining example” of charity work, according to the Huffington Post.

What people failed to realize however, was Sandusky was using this charity as easy access to vulnerable children.

Here is the beginning of the calamitous story of the death to “Happy Valley” and the Penn State football program.

According to ESPN, the first incident occurred in 1994, when a victim met Sandusky through the charity program.

After this occurrence, a string of incidents started occurring involving Sandusky and the children.

From 1994–2007, Sandusky committed repeated acts of sexual assault on numerous children. In the end, the university reached settlements with 26 victims according to CNN.

Sandusky was eventually charged with 45 of 48 remaining counts, according to CNN, accusing him of serial sex abuse of minors. This puts him in incarceration for at least 30 years but not more than 60 years.

This case led to numerous firings of prominent figures employed by the university, including head coach Joe Paterno and Penn State University President, Graham Spanier.

The university as a whole agreed to dedicate 60 million dollars to the prevention and treatment of child sexual abuse.

The Penn State football program also had 13 years of wins vacated (1998–2011) and received a postseason ban for four years. In addition, the program lost 20 football scholarships a year throughout those four seasons. (Info obtained from CNN).

As is evident, this is one of the biggest events to happen in college athletics.

Now, there have been many arguments formed around Joe Paterno and how his legacy was impacted by this.

His resume does not lie. He has two national championships in 1982 and 1986, received Sportsman of the Year from Sports Illustrated in 1986, and in his 46 seasons, he had 37 bowl appearances, which included 24 wins. (information obtained from

Paterno finished with 409 victories according to, making him the winningest coach in major college football history. He originally fell to 12 on the list when he lost some of his wins, but his victories from 1998–2011 were eventually restored.

The University even built a statue outside of Beaver Stadium of Joe Paterno in 2001, as shown here.

Statue of Joe Paterno with players behind him revealed in November of 2001.

As is evident, Joe Paterno did so much for the State College community and the Penn State football program. He is a beloved figure, who often put others before himself. According to, Paterno donated and raised over $1 billion. Before it was taken down in the wake of the scandal, Paterno had a statue outside of the stadium that showed him running onto the field with his players drifting behind him. He was and still is such a vital figure to anyone associated with the university. In the documentary titled “Happy Valley”, he was shown being painted in a mural with a halo over his head.

Paterno is absolutely cherished by the Penn State Community.

Could he have possibly done more in reporting the accusations regarding Sandusky?


Did he do what he thought was the right course of action in reporting it to the right people at that time?


Don’t hate the man for doing what he thought was the correct course of action.

Back the man up in a time of need.

He is the figure that was there for all of Penn State’s successes and failures.

He is the figure that everyone can and should lean on in this catastrophic time for the university.

Just as he did in his time on this earth, he can be the figure that reminds people of the good, not the bad.

If the thousands of people racing through the streets of State College chanting “We want Joe” in the “Happy Valley” documentary does not prove his worth, then what does?

Take current Penn State alumnus Tyler Estright for example. He held up a picture of Paterno on his balcony facing thousands of Penn State students, who all cheered when witnessing this act during a “riot” by the student body.

“This guy (Joe Paterno) was Penn State,” said Estright.

It is time to anoint him with that title once again.

The death to “Happy Valley” is unfortunately still alive, as is evident through what was once a statue of Joe Paterno, but is no longer.

Location of the Joe Paterno statue now torn down after the Jerry Sandusky incident.

However, “Happy Valley” can once again return to its beatific roots.

All State College needs to do is once again lean on their aforementioned leader, and, as this mural in State College represents, forever crown him as ‘Saint Joe’, the epitome of what it means to be a Nittany Lion.

The halo above Joe Paterno was taken down after Joe Paterno’s exit as head coach of Penn State and Jerry Sandusky’s allegations arose. Picture from Durability and Design.
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