STORIES FROM PLAYERS
“Joe had a major impact on my life” - Charlie Pittman
In 2000, Penn State freshman defensive back Adam Taliaferro had his spine crushed when tackling an Ohio State player. He lay on that September field paralyzed and panicked.
The first person he saw when he opened his eyes was Paterno, who died Sunday at 85.
"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.
"I can't tell you what that meant to me," says Taliaferro, now 30. "I'm stuck in that hospital, and here's Coach Paterno bringing a piece of the team to me, in the middle of the season. How many coaches would do that?"
One midnight, Taliaferro moved a toe and the first person his dad called was Paterno. His dad held the phone to Adam's ear and Paterno said, "You're gonna prove 'em all wrong, Kid!"
From then on, every visit, Paterno wanted to see Taliaferro move something new. "I got to where I wanted to be ready. A finger, a hand, whatever. I wanted to perform for Coach Paterno."
One day, five months into it, Paterno walked in and said, "What's new, Kid?" Taliaferro swung his legs over the bed, stood and extended his hand to shake.
"I'll never forget his eyes," he says. "They were already huge behind those Coke-bottle glasses, but they got even bigger." Paterno gave him a 10-second hug and then said, "Kid, ya make me proud."
…. Even though Taliaferro would never play football again, Paterno stayed on him to keep moving. "I came to Penn State to become a lawyer," he told him. "But I never made it. You could, Kid. You're smart."
He got the fully recovered Taliaferro a summer internship with the NFLPA in New York and, before you knew it, Taliaferro was a corporate lawyer in Cherry Hill, N.J. ESPN.com, 1/23/12
If a player was struggling with a subject, Paterno would make him come to his house for wife Sue's homemade pasta and her tutoring. One time, he told a high school blue chipper named Bob White he wouldn't recruit him unless he agreed to read 12 novels and turn in two-page book reports to Sue. They were the first books he ever finished. White wound up with two degrees and a job at the university. ESPN, 1/23/12