"I give this heavy weight from off my head
And this unwieldy sceptre from my hand,
The pride of kingly sway from out my heart."
- From "The Tragedy of King Richard II" by William Shakespeare
Shakespeare knew. Giving up a kingdom is one of the hardest things a man can do.
With the unseemly side of college football on full display this week on the cover of Sports Illustrated, what appropriate irony it is that talk has turned once again to Joe Paterno giving up his college football kingdom.
Remember, this all started as a grand experiment - the idea that excelling on the football field could go hand in hand with excelling in the classroom and in life. And the embodiment of that idea remains a prideful and kingly football coach who can recite Shakespeare and reflect on blitz control with equal aplomb.
Now, that coach finds himself at the center of a drama of Shakespearean proportions, with howls for his abdication ringing loud and long.
While it's fitting and proper for the media to put Joe Paterno and his football program under a microscope, as fans we have a choice. We can show support to someone who has clearly earned our support or we can pile on.
Support doesn't have to mean blind allegiance or a refusal to accept the reality before your eyes. It can mean exactly what Webster says it means: To hold in position, so as to keep from falling, sinking or slipping. And make no mistake, Penn State football is in danger of falling, sinking and slipping and as fans we can help hold in position while the end of the Paterno Era plays out.
After years of diminished recruiting rewards, the team appears to be overmatched physically on the field. That's been amplified by a daunting spate of injuries. Many of the players (young men in their late teens and early 20s) obviously still have important life lessons to learn about leadership and responsibility (the finger pointing that has arisen in the past weeks surely indicates a lack of both).
And the man at the center of it is faced with the daunting possibility that perhaps the time has come to admit he's not the person to fix any of it.
"Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown."
- From "Henry IV"
Of course, Paterno won't admit that publicly, certainly not when there are still games to be played this season. But you know those thoughts have to fill his mind during his alone time.
When his players' physical talents started to erode, Chuck Noll used to tell them to get on with their "life's work." Paterno's life work has been Penn State, not Penn State football as many assert, but Penn State period - the team, the fans, the students, the professors, its mission, its legacy. No college football coach is more heavily invested (pun intended) in his university and no college football coach has ever faced a decision about retirement like Paterno faces.
Put yourself in his shoes (black with white socks, of course), where your life and your work have become so intertwined over the past five decades that you can't tell where one stops and the other begins. When your identity is your job, could you walk away from it? When you've spent 50 years preparing young men for their life after football, is there a life after football for you?
Let's make this clear: Nothing that happens to Penn State's football program over the next weeks, months or even years can erase the towering achievements of Paterno's first four decades at Penn State. And while things might seem messy from our current perspective, the long view of history will leave Paterno's legacy intact.
But let's hope for more than that. Let's hope the Paterno Era can end with dignity and grace. Instead of assuming that we know the right thing to do, let's support Paterno and hope he and his family can muster the courage and wisdom to do the right thing.
"His silver hairs
Will purchase us a good opinion
And buy men's voices to commend our deeds:
It shall be said his judgment rul'd our hands;
Our youths and wildness shall no whit appear,
But all be buried in his gravity."
- From "Julius Caesar"
Eckenrode is the Mirror's general manager and was the assistant sports editor from 1993-97. He writes about Penn State football from a fan's perspective in his blog, "15 Minutes," at www.altoonamirror.com and on Twitter @15MinutesBlog.