The small Pennsylvania town of State College was the center of the sporting world Saturday night. It also happened to be the site of a quad gymnastics meet involving defending national champion Alabama.
So when rumors of Joe Paterno’s death swirled through the arena, memories came flooding back for Crimson Tide coach Sarah Paterson.
She called it “an eerie feeling.”
Suddenly she was taken back to January of 1983. Patterson was driving her fourth Alabama gymnastics team to Penn State from the Pittsburgh airport in a couple of station wagons.
“And it came over the news that coach Bryant had died,” Patterson said. “And so I pulled the station wagon over. I called the university and I just said “OK, here I am. I’m an hour outside of State College.’
“I was so young. I was like ‘what do you want me to do?’
Go and compete, was the response from Tuscaloosa.
And they won.
By the time they arrived back on campus, all the hoopla had passed and the funeral was over.
“Then to be leaving State College and hear the same thing about coach Paterno, I just thought that was really ironic,” Patterson said. “Here I was coming in when one passed away and I was leaving when the other one passed away — both immediately after the end of their coaching careers.”
Again, Alabama won the meet at Penn State. After doing her post-meet radio show Saturday night, the gravity of the moment struck Patterson.
“As I was coming down, I ran into numerous students, adults just in tears — distraught,” Patterson said. “I’m not even sure it had happened at that time, but the news of it … your heart when out to it because you saw how it affected people here years ago.
“Bet you don’t know anybody else who had that happen to them.”
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